Michael Pineda's performance in Wednesday night's 2-1 win over the Marlins was so flawless that even the seventh-inning home run he gave up to Christian Yelich might have helped the Yankees in the long run.
That's because, up to that point, Pineda had yet to allow a hit. With his pitch count reaching up toward 100, Joe Girardi soon would have had to make the call: Let Pineda see this through and risk fatigue (and Girardi's own emotional turmoil, as Terry Collins still feels over Johan Santana's no-hitter) . . . or, more likely, take the ball away with Pineda only a few outs away from history.
"I was in a bad spot there,'' Girardi said. "You can't let him go forever. My guess is that at some point, I would have really had to consider pulling him. I definitely thought about big picture . . . and we have a healthy Michael Pineda and we have to keep him healthy.''
Yelich's homer on Pineda's first pitch in the seventh answered that question easily enough. While Pineda's overall performance -- 62/3 innings of one-hit ball, with nine strikeouts -- answered a bunch of other pressing questions.
Is his slider OK? (Yes, it was responsible for seven strikeouts.) Can the Yankees count on him for a potential playoff run? (Sure, as long as he keeps the pitch-heavy no-hitters to a minimum.) Was his rough last outing the result of skipping a start? (Let Girardi answer that one.)
"These guys are creatures of habit, but sometimes you have to make adjustments,'' he said. "There are days he hasn't had his slider and been on regular rest, so there's no answer to this.''
The Yankees almost wasted Pineda's effort in the eighth. With one out and runners at the corners, Justin Wilson was relieved by Dellin Betances, who induced Dee Gordon to hit a grounder to Garrett Jones. He made a high throw as he tried to get a sliding Adeiny Hechavarria and prevent the tying run. He was called safe, but a replay showed Brian McCann tagged his trailing leg before Hechavarria nicked the plate. Derek Dietrich flied out to end the inning.
"I thought I got him,'' McCann said. "You just sell out and dive to where you think the slide was going to be.''
Betances got a five-out save despite trouble in the ninth. He allowed a single to Marcell Ozuna and walked Justin Bour before striking out Jeff Mathis.
The Yankees scored a run in the first on Alex Rodriguez's single and produced another in the fifth. Chase Headley singled with one out and, a batter later, Rodriguez singled. Jones walked and Carlos Beltran lined a single to center to score Headley. A-Rod is three hits shy of 3,000.
Pineda (8-3, 3.54) said around the fifth inning he realized he might have something special going.
"I looked up . I'm thinking 'Oooh,' but nothing changed,'' he said. "I'm not really thinking about that. I want to pitch a good game.''
He said he wasn't thinking pitch count or about being pulled with a no-hitter. It was basically all Girardi could think about.
"I don't think it's a situation where you let a guy throw 130, 140 pitches,'' he said. "It would be extremely difficult for me and I would feel bad, but sometimes as a manager, you have to protect players from themselves.''