NEW YORK (AP) — Frustrated with the way he had been pitching, Ivan Nova took it upon himself to figure things out after his start in Anaheim.
Boy, did he know what he was doing.
Nova took a two-hitter into the ninth inning, Mark Teixiera and Robinson Cano homered and the New York Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the second straight night, 4-1 Wednesday.
“Tonight was a really, really good day for me,” Nova said.
Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez had RBI doubles in the eighth inning to help the Yankees win for the 10th time in 13 games and passed Tampa Bay in the tight AL East standings for the first time since April 23.
Tampa Bay lost for the sixth time in eight games and dropped to third place after holding at least a share of the division lead since May 27.
Nova and Alex Cobb locked in a duel until Cobb (2-2) tired in the eighth. The pair combined to keep the bases clear after Cano’s homer with one out in the fourth until Sean Rodriguez doubled with one out in the top of the eighth — 20 straight batters.
Nova (7-2) pitched into the ninth for the first time in 45 career starts but he gave up consecutive triples to Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton to start the inning.
“He was just dialed in tonight,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Nova was lifted to a loud ovation and Rafael Soriano relieved. Soriano got three outs for his eighth save in eight chances, all since Mariano Rivera went out with a knee injury.
Nova followed stellar outings by Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte. The three combined to toss 22 scoreless innings beginning with the fifth inning Sunday in Detroit and continuing until the Rays scored in the ninth. Nova did not want to be the starter that faltered.
“Especially when everybody’s pitching good, I don’t want to be the guy behind,” Nova said. “I want to be with those guys pitching good.”
CC Sabathia has a chance to lead the Yankees to a three-game sweep Thursday. He faces Rays ace David Price in the seventh matchup between the lefties.
Before the game Rays manager Joe Maddon said his team needs to play a complete game, fielding with some consistency after committing three errors in a 7-0 loss Tuesday night, hitting better and pitching up to their standards. They got two of the three right.
“A better game played on our part, even if we didn’t win,” Maddon said. “I thought we played better, we pitched better, we just did not hit.”
The Rays lineup has struggled with Evan Longoria sidelined since May 1. Tampa Bay entered with a .221 average in the slugging third baseman’s absence because of a partially torn left hamstring.
Mustering just two hits against Pettitte for 7 1-3 innings Tuesday and four overall, the Rays looked equally lost against Nova — getting a leadoff single then not notching a hit until the eighth.
The Yankees right-hander had allowed five runs in three of his last four starts — including against the Angels — but he worked on a few things in the bullpen this week and had better command of his fastball this time, keeping his pitches down in the zone, and had one of his most dominant starts.
He gave up four hits, a walk and hitting one batter while improving to 4-0 against the Rays in his career.
“He just had his stuff today. He just had it,” Upton said. “Cobb threw a good game, too.”
Cobb had the Yankees off-balance with his oft-used changeup, making only the two costly mistakes until the eighth.
Teixeira hit a high fly into the second deck in right field in the second inning for his 10th homer.
Cano smashed a line drive into the seats in right-center in the fourth inning one pitch after Alex Rodriguez was caught too far off first. A-Rod, who walked, started for second thinking Cobb’s pitch got past Jose Molina, but Molina was able to catch the ball with his bare hand when it bounced high behind him then make a quick throw to first as Rodriguez tumbled back into the base.
NOTES: Super Bowl champion New York Giants WR Victor Cruz received a robust ovation when interviewed on the video board after the seventh inning. … The Rays activated first baseman-outfielder Brandon Allen from the 15-day disabled list and designated him for assignment. Allen went on the DL on May 10 because of a strained right quadriceps. The Rays claimed Allen off waivers from Oakland April 19 and he batted .100 (2 for 20) with a homer and three RBIs in limited action. … Yankees RHP David Robertson (oblique strain) could start a rehab assignemnt this weekend. … The Yankees drafted RHP Jose Mesa Jr., son of former big leaguer Jose Mesa in the 24th round from Charles Flanagan HS (Fla.).
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)