By the time I and my three traveling compatriots strolled into Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, the Bombers were holding a 5-0 lead. We had already heard one of the best/worst noises in live baseball — a roar from the home crowd while we were walking to our gate. That roar inevitably means two things:
1. Something awesome has happened for your team.
2. You didn’t get to see it.
In this case, the roar was for Robinson Cano, whose two-run first-inning homer had given the Yanks a 3-0 lead. Two more first-inning runs made it 5-0, a should-have-been-insurmountable lead for Yankee starter Ivan Nova. But Nova, whose mind tends to wander at inopportune times, had been sitting in the dugout for a looong time while the Yanks staked him to a five-run lead.
And it showed in a second inning I would very much like to forget. Nova allowed the first two Orioles to reach base, got the next two and quickly got ahead of strikeout machine Mark Reynolds 0-2 with two on and two out.
At this point, the inning should have gone like this:
Eye-high fastball or 56-foot breaking ball, Reynolds takes for ball 1.
Same type of pitch, he swings and misses, inning over.
Instead, Nova inexplicably laid a meatball over the plate (on 0-2?!?!?!) that Reynolds crushed down the left-field line for a ground rule double. From there, Nova allowed consecutive singles to Omar Quintanilla and Nick Markakis and walked J.J. Hardy on four pitches. 5-3 Yanks, two outs, bases loaded.
Up came DH Chris Davis, who fouled off the first pitch and hammered the second pitch to left center field. From our seats in the right field bleachers, we could see Curtis Granderson race back… and back… and he’s looking up… and the ball’s headed for the wall… and it BOUNCES OFF THE TOP OF THE WALL INTO THE LEFT FIELD BLEACHERS OH MY GOD IT’S A GRAND SLAM GAHHHHHHHHH.
That’s a 405-foot opposite field grand slam by Chris Davis. Read that sentence again to let it sink in.
Just like that it was 7-5 Orioles, and the Yankee crowd was torn between sitting in open-mouthed shock and booing Nova as lustily as possible. Nova would go on to allow nine earned runs in five innings, taking the loss in a 11-5 final. It was pretty much like watching a boxing match where your fighter opens the first round by flooring his opponent, who gets up after an eight-count, dusts himself off and KOs your guy with a 1-2 combo to the head.
After the game, Nova took responsibility for the loss and said he would spend the next few days trying to recapture his command. No, wait — he did this instead:
“It was a bad day; bad luck,” said Nova, who has had more than a month’s worth of both, pitching to a 5.28 ERA while allowing 57 hits and 18 walks in 47 2/3 innings over his last eight starts. “I just have to turn the page and get a fresh start.
“I have to go forward.”
Look Ivan, I was there. You are a sinkerball pitcher whose pitches actually rose Tuesday. When that happens, you’re about two steps removed from a batting practice pitcher. And your inability to focus on the mound makes your clubhouse bravado all the more infuriating.
At this point, where does Nova even fit in the Yankees’ playoff rotation? The way Hiroki Kuroda is pitching right now (7-1, 2.46 ERA in his last 12 starts) he has to be the Game 2 starter, after Sabathia in Game 1. If Andy Pettitte comes back and can pitch the way he was before he broke his leg, his postseason resume should give him the nod for Game 3 starter. And right now, would you really take Nova in Game 4 over Phil Hughes, who is 7-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last 11 starts? I wouldn’t.