Yankees righthander Ivan Nova pitched the first complete game of his career -- an incredibly efficient three-hit, 11-strikeout effort on only 102 pitches on a 90-degree night at Yankee Stadium -- but walked off the mound trailing by a run.
He deserved better, and he got it when the Yankees pieced together a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth against Baltimore closer Jim Johnson for a 3-2 victory, their fifth straight win.
Travis Hafner drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded to force home the tying run with one out before Vernon Wells' game-winning single to leftfield, a hard grounder past diving third baseman Manny Machado.
David Adams led off the ninth with a single to right and Johnson misplayed Brett Gardner's sacrifice bunt, putting runners on first and second with none out. Ichiro Suzuki's sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Robinson Cano loaded the bases for Hafner. It was the sixth blown save for Johnson (2-7).
Nova's only mistake was a two-run homer by Matt Wieters in the second. Catcher Chris Stewart thought it was a pop-up, but it kept carrying. "For him to stay in the game mentally was huge," he said.
Describing the difference in Nova's recent outings, he added, "He's throwing a lot of two-seamers now. His ball is moving down and causing a lot of mis-hits. With that moving across and his curveball moving the other way, it widens the plate and he's getting a lot of missed swings.
"That's the best I've ever seen him. He could easily have thrown a complete-game shutout tonight if that ball didn't sneak out."
Said Nova (3-2): "That's the best I've pitched. I finally got a complete game. I was positive we were going to win the whole night. I told the guys, 'It's impossible that I can pitch that way the first time and we lost the game, 2-1.' It's great."
Hiroki Kuroda missed his regular start because of a minor hip flexor problem, so Joe Girardi called upon Nova. He started out well enough with two strikeouts in the first inning, but he hit Chris Davis with a pitch to begin the second and then fed a 93-mph fastball to Wieters, who launched his 11th homer over a leaping Wells and off the top of the leftfield wall for a 2-0 lead.
"I don't think I left it over the plate," Nova said. "At least I don't make that mistake. So I just kept working."
Nova gave up one hit and a walk the rest of the way and faced one more than the minimum because of a sixth-inning double play. The Yankees cut their deficit to 2-1 when Wells singled with two outs in the fourth, moved to second on a walk to Lyle Overbay and scored on a sharp single to left by Luis Cruz, just beating Wieters' tag after a great throw from Nate McLouth.
The Yankees loaded the bases in the fifth on a walk to Adams, a one-out double by Ichiro and an intentional walk to Cano. But Hafner lofted a weak fly to shallow center and Wells fouled out.
"Travis and I had an opportunity in the fifth and didn't come through," Wells said. "It's rare when you get a second chance at that situation. It's a huge win. It took a little while, but Nova kept us in the game. He was awesome."