Updated at 12:19 a.m., Sept. 21, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) — Time to stock up on champagne. The New York Yankees are on the brink of another playoff berth.
Ivan Nova pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning, Curtis Granderson drove in four runs and New York moved within one win of a postseason spot by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-0 on Tuesday night.
“Right now we feel we’ve got ourselves in a good spot. We’re not worried about anybody else, we’re not paying attention to anybody else,” outfielder Nick Swisher said. “We’re worried about going out there and winning a ballgame, because we do that and it takes care of everything.”
Granderson hit a three-run double and reached base four times, boosting his MVP credentials as the Yankees slowed Tampa Bay’s charge at rival Boston in the AL wild-card race. The Rays remained two games behind the Red Sox, who coughed up a late lead and lost 7-5 to Baltimore.
“I absolutely love it. This is what you plot in the offseason, and you play the whole season to play meaningful games at this time of year,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “I know we’re not going to get any extra money for it, but we’ve already been in the playoffs for about 10 days. And it’s been fantastic.”
New York can secure its 16th postseason trip in 17 years with one victory in Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Rays. In fact, the AL East leaders are in with a win over Tampa Bay in any of their six remaining matchups this season.
The Yankees could also wrap up the division title Wednesday with a doubleheader sweep and another Red Sox loss to Baltimore. Holding a season-high, six-game lead over second-place Boston, their magic number is three to clinch the AL East.
“I’m not really worried about that. I know if we go out there and play our game, everything is going to take care of itself,” Swisher said. “It’s just a matter of time. It’s something that we want to achieve and something we’ve all got our minds set on.”
One day after Mariano Rivera set the major league saves record with No. 602, New York turned its attention to a four-game series with surging Tampa Bay. Nova (16-4) pitched in traffic all night but the rookie never caved, allowing six hits and three walks over 7 2-3 innings.
Solidifying his role as the team’s No. 2 starter, Nova improved to 12-0 with a 3.09 ERA in 15 starts since his last loss June 3 at the Los Angeles Angels. Despite a midseason demotion to the minors, where he went 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA, the right-hander leads all major league rookies in wins.
“I don’t know about the October rotation, I just know about the season right now,” Nova said. “There’s a lot of things that are coming next. It’s going to be exciting.”
Nova’s ability to pitch out of trouble kept the Yankees in control even though they went 1 for 7 with the bases loaded and stranded 18 runners — their most in a nine-inning game since Sept. 21, 1956, when they set the major league record with 20 in a 13-7 loss at Boston.
One of the few big hits was Granderson’s bases-loaded double down the right-field line off Wade Davis (10-10) in the second. Eric Chavez had an RBI single earlier in the inning following Swisher’s leadoff double.
The rally was helped along when Brett Gardner reached on a bunt single to load the bases. It appeared second baseman Sean Rodriguez had his foot on the edge of the first base bag as he took the throw in time, but Gardner was called safe by umpire Scott Barry.
Davis and Maddon argued the call, to no avail.
“I felt strong. I just never got into a good rhythm,” Davis said. “It’s frustrating. You want to go out there and keep your team in the game, and then you give up four runs in an inning. It’s tough to swallow.”
Granderson added an RBI infield single in the fifth, when first baseman Casey Kotchman shoveled low to the pitcher covering. Granderson also doubled in the seventh.
Tampa Bay put the leadoff man on four times against Nova, including every inning from the fifth through the seventh. But the Rays couldn’t cash in.
Nova worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the seventh. He retired Desmond Jennings on a shallow fly and screamed into his glove after B.J. Upton grounded into an inning-ending double play.
It was the latest example of Nova preventing or limiting damage when faced with a tough situation. The Yankees said opponents have one hit in their past 28 at-bats against him with runners in scoring position, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“That’s just maturation,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We need him to continue to grow up.”
Nova received a standing ovation as he walked off the mound and tipped his cap to the sellout crowd of 46,944. Boone Logan and Luis Ayala finished the six-hitter.
NOTES: Girardi said he wasn’t sure whether RHP Phil Hughes (back spasms) would be able to make his scheduled start in the first game Wednesday. Girardi didn’t disclose any other candidates. … CC Sabathia goes for his 20th win in the twinbill. … Rays 2B-RF Ben Zobrist was not with the team following the birth Monday of his daughter, Kruse. He is expected back sometime Wednesday. … LHP David Price is on track to start Friday night against Toronto. He left Sunday’s outing in Boston after getting hit on the right side of his chest by a line drive.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)