The holidays apparently bring out something special in Michael Pineda.
The Yankees righthander cruised through seven shutout innings against the Rays on July 4, allowing five hits and one walk and striking out 10. That was his second-highest total behind a 16-strikeout performance on May 10 -- Mother's Day.
What he wound up lacking, however, was a victory. Dellin Betances blew the save, allowing a two-run homer by Steven Souza Jr. in the top of the ninth and leaving Pineda with a no-decision.
"I want to win, but I'm really focused on my team winning the game," Pineda said after the Yankees' 3-2 victory.
They won in walk-off fashion for the second game in a row, this time on pitcher Brad Boxberger's errant throw after he fielded a sacrifice bunt by Ramon Flores in the bottom of the ninth.
That left Betances with a victory he didn't want -- a "vulture win'' -- instead of the save he had hoped to nail down. But that didn't diminish Pineda's outing.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Pineda did "pretty much everything" well in his latest outing.
"His slider was good, his changeup was really good and I thought his fastball was extremely effective," Girardi said. "I thought he located well."
The 26-year-old Pineda, who is 8-5 with a 3.79 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 13 walks in 992/3 innings, has spent this season mixing promising performances with periods of inconsistency.
In his last two outings, he has allowed two earned runs in 15 innings, striking out 18. But in the seven games between that and the 16-strikeout game, he had three good ones (four runs and 14 hits in 191/3 innings) and four poor ones (26 runs and 38 hits in 19 innings).
"He's going to have hiccups; everybody does," Girardi said. "I think sometimes we can make evaluations on short periods of time. If you were to make the evaluation after the 16-strikeout game, you would have said he would have never lost a game.
"It's the ups and downs of a season, it's a long year. Hitters are going to go through it, pitchers are going to go through it, even baserunners . . . It's just part of the game."
John Ryan Murphy, who caught Pineda on Saturday, said he got better with each inning against the Rays.
"I think he holds himself to a high standard," Murphy said. "Everybody here does and knows what he's capable of doing. In the last two starts, he's proven that."
Brett Gardner echoed the sentiment and opted for hyperbole, comparing some of Pineda's pitches to ones thrown by Mariano Rivera.
"He obviously had good stuff when he struck out 16, but from centerfield, his fastball is up to 93, 94," Gardner said. "He looked good. When his ball is moving, it's got a lot of late life on it."
Pineda's goal is simple: to do it all again.
"The division is close," he said. "I want to help my team and pitch in good games."