ATLANTA — Ivan Nova said he didn’t have his best stuff, yet he was a big hit – even at the plate – in leading the New York Yankees back into first place.
Nova combined with four relievers on a five-hitter and the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves 3-0 on Monday night to claim a share of first place in the AL East for the first time in seven weeks.
“Who would have thought it?” Yankees manager Joe Girardi asked. “I think there’s a lot of parity in the American League this year and I think there are a lot of good teams who are going to beat up on each other.
“Our guys have done a good job of enduring some things. We’ve had some key injuries and we’ve been able to figure things out a
little bit. Guys have stepped up and we just have to keep going.”
Raul Ibanez led off the second inning with a homer and Robinson Cano had two hits, including a run-scoring single in the first. The surging Yankees climbed into a tie with idle Tampa Bay for the division lead, their first return to first place since April 24.
Nova (8-2) gave up five hits with one walk and six strikeouts in seven innings for his fourth consecutive win.
“Our starting pitching has been really good, and that’s how you put streaks together,” Girardi said.
The Braves didn’t have a baserunner reach third base, but Nova said his command was inconsistent.
“I don’t have my best stuff today, but I made pitches when I needed it,” he said.
“My command of the fastball wasn’t there. Sometimes I wanted to go inside on lefties and I left the ball over the plate. … When you don’t have your best stuff, you have to fight.”
Nova added a milestone with a second-inning single for his first career hit. He said the ball from his
first hit will earn a place of honor beside souvenirs from his first win and first strikeout.
“When I was little, I wanted to be a big league hitter,” Nova said.
The Yankees (35-25) have won four in a row and nine of 11 to move a season-best 10 games over .500. The Braves, held without an extra-base hit, have lost back-to-back contests after their season-best six-game winning streak.
Girardi said he held out closer and former Atlanta Brave Rafael Soriano, who developed “a little blister” on his right index finger while pitching Sunday against the Mets.
“He said he was OK, but I’m not comfortable,” Girardi said. “So give him one more day.”
Randall Delgado (4-6) set a career-high with six walks as he allowed three runs and five hits in five innings. The control problems pushed up his pitch count early. He threw 66 pitches while giving up a run in each of the first three innings.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the 22-year-old was pumped up for the big-game atmosphere.
“He was excited,” Gonzalez said. “He was coming out of his delivery, first time facing the New York Yankees and (42,669) in the stands. I think he got himself a little amped up for today’s game.”
The Braves are 0-9 on Mondays this season.