CINCINNATI (AP) — Rookie Ivan Nova knew all about Great American Ball Park’s reputation as a place where pitches near the belt turn into home runs galore.
“They told me,” Nova said. “When I was warming up in the bullpen, I was thinking, ‘Keep the ball down, keep it down all the time.”‘
The right-hander held down the NL’s most prolific offense for eight innings Monday night, and Alex Rodriguez started New York’s four-run first inning with an RBI single, leading the Yankees to a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Yankees have won nine of 11, moving a season-best 13 games over .500 at 42-29. Their high-powered offense has led the way.
New York started fast against left-hander Travis Wood (5-5), who made an unexpected start. Originally scheduled to pitch on Tuesday, he was moved up a day when Johnny Cueto showed up with a stiff neck.
“An ideal first inning,” said Rodriguez, who had a pair of hits and got the last inning off. “We’ll take that every time.”
Nova (7-4) made it stand up by using his slider and changeup more than he has all season. The rookie won his third straight start, allowing a run and four singles without walking a batter. Fifteen of Cincinnati’s outs came off ground balls.
“It’s impressive,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ve seen this kid move forward and take some steps. He’s learning on the way.”
The AL’s top bullpen allowed the Reds to rally in the ninth. Brandon Phillips led off with a single and Boone Logan hit Joey Votto with none out. Mariano Rivera came on and gave up Scott Rolen’s RBI single and Chris Heisey’s run-scoring forceout before fanning pinch-hitter Edgar Renteria for his 18th save in 21 chances.
Rivera has converted his last 21 chances against the NL and has a record 65 career interleague saves.
The Reds lead the NL in runs, but have struggled lately. They scored four runs — all off homers — while dropping two of three games against Toronto over the weekend.
Interleague play has been a big problem for the defending NL Central champions, who are 1-6 against the American League.
The Yankees are visiting for the first time since 2003, when they had an unexpected moment in franchise history at Great American Ball Park. Late owner George Steinbrenner decided to make Derek Jeter the team’s 11th captain during the series, informing the shortstop by phone.
Jeter was potentially on pace for another historic moment in Cincinnati, but a strained calf landed him on the disabled list last week. Jeter is six shy of becoming the first Yankee with 3,000 career hits.
The Yankees lead the majors in homers and score a higher percentage of runs off the homer than any other team. That powerful offense would seem to be a perfect fit at Great American, one of the majors’ most homer-friendly places.
Instead, New York won by keeping it simple.
The Yankees put together four singles and Robinson Cano had an RBI double in the first inning to help build a 4-0 lead against Wood, who needed 33 pitches to get three outs. Rodriguez’s single drove home the first run and gave him 178 career interleague RBIs, the most by any player.
After Cano’s hit, a large group of NY fans in the capacity crowd of 41,173 started chanting: “Let’s Go Yankees!”
Wood, facing the Yankees for the first time, gave up only one more hit through the seventh.
“With the Yankees coming in, I tried to be as calm as possible and treat it like any other game,” Wood said. “Maybe I was (hyped up) and didn’t know it.”
Cincinnati got a pair of singles in the first, when Votto grounded into a run-scoring double play that prevented a big inning.
The Reds’ late pitching change benefited outfielder Andruw Jones, who got into the lineup against the left-handed Wood. He singled home the Yankees’ final run in the first inning.
Jones also grounded into a double play in the third, stumbling out of the box and pulling up halfway down the line after rolling his left ankle while swinging. Jones stayed in the game until the seventh. Girardi said the ankle was sore but not swollen.
Rodriguez left after his single in the eighth. He’s been playing with a stiff left shoulder and other ailments.
“I feel OK,” he said. “Nothing north of that, for sure. I’m good enough to play. A lot of guys are banged up.”
NOTES: New York is 5-2 in interleague play. … Yankees INF Eric Chavez took batting practice on the field for the first time since breaking his left foot May 5. He also continued fielding grounders at the team’s spring training complex in Florida. … Jeter worked out indoors in Tampa and got treatment for a strained right calf. … Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman, on the DL with an inflamed pitching shoulder, will make his final rehab start for Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday. The Reds then will decide whether to add him to the roster or send him to the minors to continue working on his control.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)