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Ivan Nova and Yankees’ bullpen combine to beat Orioles

Ivan Nova #47 of the New York Yankees

Ivan Nova #47 of the New York Yankees walks off the mound after the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Monday, July 18, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Maybe the odds are stacked up too high, and maybe it’s time to dismantle this team and try again next year, but for at least two days, the Yankees have shown what might have been.

They showed what this season could look like if the starting pitching consistently performed for six innings. What it could be like in October to hand the ball off to the three-headed beast that makes up the core of the bullpen.

It looks like this: A big win against the Red Sox on Sunday night and an even bigger 2-1 victory over the AL East-leading Orioles on Monday night. Happy days at Yankee Stadium, and no talk of trading away anything that isn’t bolted to the ground.

The Yankees got to indulge in a little wish fulfillment at the Stadium thanks to a solid performance by Ivan Nova and the ever-reliable relief of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman (J.J. Hardy gave Chapman’s slider a ride to the warning track in the ninth, prompting a rueful smile from Chapman, but that’s about it).

The Yankees inched back to .500, breathing a little more life into a team that’s been labeled as trade bait with two weeks left before the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline.

“I think you just focus on tomorrow,” Joe Girardi said. “I think that’s all we can do at this point because of all the noise around [buying or selling] . . . It’s important to get a number of our guys going at once. If we start getting contributions, we’ll get going. “

The Yankees lifted their record to 5-31 in games in which they have scored two or fewer runs. They have scored only 10 runs in four games since the All-Star break but have gone 2-2.

Betances, Miller and Chapman combined to allow one hit in three innings, with Chapman earning his 19th save. On the final out of the game, Chapman shattered Ryan Flaherty’s bat with a pitch clocked at 105.1 mph — the fastest pitch he’s ever thrown, according to YES — and Flaherty’s dribbler deflected off the barrel of the broken bat as it approached Starlin Castro, but Castro made the play.

The Yankees got on the board in the second inning when Alex Rodriguez cranked Kevin Gausman’s 2-and-0 fastball into the bleachers in left for his first home run since June 18 and his first extra-base hit since July 5 (it also snapped an 0-for-8 streak). It was his ninth homer of the season and 696th of his career. At that point, Rodriguez was 6-for-12 with three homers and a double against Gausman.

But the Orioles were able to get it right back in the manner they best know how. Leading off the third, Jonathan Schoop teed off on Nova’s two-seamer, giving the Orioles their major league-leading 142nd home run.

The Yankees scored what proved to be the winning run when Brett Gardner came home on Brian McCann’s sacrifice fly to shallow centerfield in the bottom of the third. A one-out single by Carlos Beltran (3-for-4) had sent Gardner from first to third, and McCann’s fly ball looked destined to create a close play at the plate, but Adam Jones botched the throw, missing his cutoff man and letting the ball skitter to catcher Matt Wieters.

Gausman (1-7, 4.05) has allowed only three runs in 20 2⁄3 innings against the Yankees this season but is 0-1 against them.

Nova (7-4, 4.92), in a rare return to form, kept the hit-happy Orioles at bay. More impressively, he (mostly) kept them in the ballpark. When it comes to the Orioles, giving up one home run — and a solo shot at that — can be chalked up as a victory. Schoop’s blast was the Orioles’ only extra-base hit against Nova, who allowed four hits and three walks in six innings.

He was pitching on 10 days’ rest — not ideal for a sinkerball pitcher — but was determined not to get frustrated, even against a team as dangerous as the Orioles. In fact, he enjoyed the challenge. “I like those games like that,” he said. “That keeps you more focused, knowing that you can’t make mistakes and hoping for your team to score some runs for you. It was good to pitch a game like this, that kind of team.”


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