Ivan Nova thought discovering he was tipping pitches in his start against Boston last week made the difference. Manager Joe Girardi simply attributed this outing to better control.
No matter the reason, Nova’s stellar September start kept the New York Yankees in the AL wild-card chase.
The right-hander pitched a six-hitter for his second career shutout, Eduardo Nunez hit a two-run homer and the Yankees beat the San Francisco Giants 6-0 Saturday.
"We need to win games, and it’s no time to pitch the way that I pitched the time before," Nova said.
Nova watched video between starts with pitching coach Larry Rothschild after giving up five runs — four earned — against the Red Sox. Nova thought he saw himself giving away some pitches, so he adjusted the way he held his glove, and he also worked on better curveball command.
The adjustments made for a 108-pitch gem.
A day before New York honors retiring closer Mariano Rivera in a pregame ceremony, Nova (9-5) gave the Yankees’ bullpen a rest with his third complete game, all this year. He struck out seven and walked one in winning for the first time in four starts following poor efforts against AL East rivals Boston and Baltimore.
"I think he has a lot more confidence in his stuff," Girardi said.
Brendan Ryan made several impressive plays at shortstop, Alfonso Soriano connected for the second straight day and Robinson Cano had an RBI single in a three-run third against Ryan Vogelsong (3-6), helping New York win for just the third time in eight games.
New York (82-73) remained three games behind Cleveland (85-70) and 2 1-2 back of Texas (84-70) for the second AL wild card but moved ahead of Baltimore and Kansas City (both 81-73). The Yankees have seven games remaining, including three against wild-card leading Tampa Bay (85-69).
"If we played like we played last night and today we feel like we can win every game," Soriano said.
Soriano connected on the first pitch thrown by reliever Guillermo Moscoso leading off the sixth, giving him 17 homers and 50 RBIs with the Yankees in 52 games. He had 17 homers and 51 RBIs in 93 games for the Chicago Cubs.
The Giants gave the many orange and black-clad fans in attendance little to cheer. They only had two baserunners reach second — one the result of Soriano losing Brandon Belt’s flyball to left field in the sun for a double. Belt and Pablo Sandoval each had two hits for the Giants, who never put two runners on in the same inning.
San Francisco lost for the eighth time in nine interleague road games this season. With a .458 winning percentage (71-84), the Giants are on track for the third-worst winning percentage for a defending World Series champion, trailing only the 1998 Florida Marlins (.333) and the 1991 Cincinnati Reds (.457), according to STATS.
After Vogelsong retired six straight to start the game, the bottom three in the Yankees’ lineup reached opening the third.
Mark Reynolds blooped a single over third base and went to third on a hit-and-run single by Ryan, who entered with a .197 average. Chris Stewart walked on four pitches to load the bases for Ichiro Suzuki.
"It was upsetting for me from a mental standpoint. I didn’t have a good mental game," Vogelsong said. "On the hit and run, I knew they were going to send the runner there and the cutter away but it ran up a bit. If that ball is where I want it to be it’s a groundball."
Suzuki’s sacrifice fly put the Yankees ahead, Alex Rodriguez drove in another run with a spinning grounder to the left of second base that shortstop Brandon Crawford gloved with a nifty grab, and Cano tacked on a run when he sliced a single the opposite way through a huge hole between shortstop and third base.
Nunez connected in the fourth on the first pitch he saw from Vogelsong for his second homer this season.
Vogelsong was lifted after five innings. He allowed five runs and five hits in losing for the fourth time in five starts.
Sandoval, the Giants’ third baseman, was lifted for defense before the start of the bottom of the eighth because his back tightened up. He is day to day.
NOTES: Nova pitched a three-hit shutout against Baltimore on Aug. 31. … Girardi said that while C Austin Romine (concussion) was cleared to play, he may not return this season because he still feels dizzy after working out. … Giants manager Bruce Bochy visited Monument Park. … Giants 2B Joaquin Arias will miss several games with a pulled left hamstring. Arias was injured Friday night in the seventh inning. … The Yankees are urging fans to be in their seats for Sunday’s game before 12:30 p.m. for the start of the ceremony honoring Rivera. …. Giants RHP Yusmeiro Petit (4-0) faces LHP Andy Pettitte (10-10), who will be making his final regular-season start at Yankee Stadium.