By Ernie Palladino
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This was a nice way to snap what could have turned into a horrendous losing streak, beating Tampa Bay 5-1 in 12 with a good eye and some well-placed hits.

The Yanks needed that after allowing 27 runs over the last two games, including Saturday’s 16-1 setback that saw Ivan Nova leave for the DL with a partially torn right ulnar collateral ligament. That, for those keeping score of pinstriped injuries, of which there is no shortage this year, is located in the elbow and often leads to Tommy John surgery. And that means Nova, one of the big pieces in Joe Girardi’s rotation, could be done for the 2014 season.

Be that as it may, Sunday’s extra-inning affair should provide an emotional boost to a team that saw Mark Teixeira return from a hamstring injury and reinserted at first base and into the No. 5 hole. He even contributed two hits in his first game since April 4, so that was encouraging.

Better yet was Vidal Nuno’s first start, a five-inning outing in which he yielded no runs and just three hits. And the bullpen, which only a day before had spit gasoline on the eight-run bonfire Nova created with four homers, shut the Rays down on seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball. Thankfully, poor Dean Anna was able to stay in the dugout Sunday until he ran out to shortstop in the 11th. The previous day, he was charged with two of those runs as he performed the old “take one for the team” mopup duties.

Just as important, however, was how the Yanks scored their four decisive runs. It was Anna, actually, who broke the 1-1 deadlock when he barely held his swing on a full-count, bases-loaded pitch from C.J. Riefenhauser to push in Brett Gardner with the go-ahead run.

Carlos Beltran then knocked two more in with a single to center off Josh Lueke, and Alfonso Soriano’s pop single to right drove in the final run.

Four runs, and not a homer in sight. Given the Yanks’ problems of the previous two days and the fact that they have probably lost a major cog in their pitching machine, they may have to rely on more of those types of clutch innings. It becomes especially important considering there are no guarantees on how the middle of the lineup is going to respond now that the 34-year-old Teixeira has returned. Already there are rumblings among the pundits that he no longer has the physical heartiness or power required to command that spot.

Now, Girardi has a dilemma. With his No. 3 starter gone, probably for the season, he’ll need to find Nova’s replacement. And Nuno is probably not the guy despite his solid outing.

“I think we have to look at every possibility right now,” Girardi said after watching Nuno work himself out of fourth and fifth-inning jams.

That decision will come in the next day or so. For now, the 11-8 Yanks take a nice win out of Tampa Bay and head to Boston on Tuesday.

Losing three out of four to the Rays would not have been nice way to go into Fenway, even in April.

“After the last two games, we were a little flat,” Anna said. “It’s a huge momentum swing to get the win and carry it to Boston, for sure.”

“That’s a big win,” Girardi said. “To win the first game the way we did and then really get beat up the next two days — we leave here 2-2 and got a day off and we get ready for the Red Sox. I thought that was important.”

As they say, nobody wins divisions in April. But a team can certainly dig itself a hole deep enough to lose one.

The Yanks prevented that Sunday — in extra innings, in grinding fashion, against a team many pick as the cream of the AL East crop.

That was big.

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