Ivan Nova walked off the mound toward the third-base dugout Saturday at Yankee Stadium, having been lifted after yielding a leadoff single in the seventh inning of a scoreless game. The home fans gave him a nice hand, so he pointed at the ones in front of him and tapped over his heart.
“It was really cool,” Nova said.
This wasn’t his first start against the Yankees since they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 1, 2016, but it was his first start at the Stadium while wearing a road uniform.
There also was a special bonus. His opponent on the mound Saturday meant so much to him while he was here. CC Sabathia would throw advice his way, and now Nova would be trying to beat him.
This wasn’t just another day in the big leagues for the 32-year-old righthander.
“It means a lot, man, a lot of emotion walking over to the bullpen, especially the guy that I was facing today was my mentor,” Nova said after the White Sox managed only one hit off Sabathia and three relievers in a 4-0 loss to the Yankees. “I was very lucky to have to face him today and I was excited … It was a good moment today.”
There were good moments during his Yankees days, which began when they called him up from Triple-A in 2010. He finished his seven-season run with a 53-39 bottom line and had a 4.41 ERA in 131 games, including 118 starts. His best season was his second year, when he went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
Sabathia’s influence began early on. Nova said he helped him “every way possible” over the years.
“I remember once I was kind of putting pressure on myself my first year,” Nova said. “I’d be throwing like three or four innings per game. I told him, ‘I want to pitch good. I want to have success and I want to contribute.’ He told me, ‘Let me worry about [it], not you. I want you to do better.’ It was pretty cool. After that, I remember I threw like six innings and he was happy.”
Now Sabathia is pitching in his 19th and final season. The 38-year-old lefty came off the injured list to make his first start of the season and allowed just the one hit in five innings.
“He pitched really good,” Nova said. “His command was really good. Same CC, man.”
Nova was really good, too. After throwing six shutout innings, he was charged with the first run in a three-run seventh and took the loss. Only Nova’s run was earned that inning. It was his first appearance on the mound at the Stadium since July 23, 2016.
“I knew he was going to be good today,” Sabathia said. “He had been calling me all week, saying that we were lining up [to face each other]. It was good to see him pitch well, especially [because] I knew he wanted to pitch good here in Yankee Stadium … I’m always wishing him well.”
Nova allowed one run in seven innings to beat the Yankees in Pittsburgh in April 2017. The Pirates traded him to the White Sox last December. Now he’s in the final year of a three-year, $26 million deal. He’s 0-2 with a 5.28 ERA, but two of his three outings have been quality starts.
This time he allowed four singles, fanned five and walked one. Nova threw 64 of his 93 pitches for strikes.
“Ivan threw a great game,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I hope that’s the first question. How did that outing go for Ivan? I think it went very, very well. He kept us there. … I thought he was commanding everything.”
The White Sox are 4-9, but Nova said he’s “super-happy” in Chicago and expressed optimism for the team.
Then he was done talking. He wanted to go see his son . . . and Sabathia.