Yankees can't contain Bautista in loss

Yankees can't contain Bautista in loss

TORONTO -- The fastball that buzzed to the backstop was intended as a message to keep Jose Bautista from getting too comfortable at the plate, an attempt to make the Major Leagues' top home run hitter think twice about digging in.

The Yankees might need to reconsider their strategy.

Having already homered earlier in the game, Bautista took exception to Ivan Nova's knockdown pitch and completed a singlehanded take down of the Bombers, clubbing a go-ahead homer in the eighth to lift the Blue Jays to a 3-2 victory on Monday at Rogers Centre.

"I don't want any of our pitchers to back down," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "You go at hitters and you make them uncomfortable. People have been doing this for years. That's baseball."

Of course, just as big a part of the game is getting back up and dusting yourself off, and Bautista seems to have put one up on the Yankees as he reached the 40-homer mark in what has proven to be his renaissance season.

Bautista enjoyed belting the deciding blast off Dave Robertson in the eighth inning, but the fireworks really seemed to begin after the slugger cleared the wall off Nova in the third, a two-run shot with Yunel Escobar aboard.

That blast on a hanging slider helped set the stage for a benches-clearing incident during Bautista's next at-bat in the sixth. After Bautista crushed a long foul ball, Nova fired the next pitch -- a 92-mph fastball -- over Bautista's head, spilling him to the ground.

"It wasn't on purpose," said Nova, who was making his first Major League start. "I just throw the ball. I've got to pitch. [If] I pitch inside, I can get a lot of outs. The pitch wasn't on purpose."

Home-plate umpire Jerry Meals didn't see it that way, immediately warning both benches. Neither did Bautista, who took a few steps toward the mound, exchanging words with Nova as both benches and bullpens emptied to the field.

"Instinctively, I was kind of upset," Bautista said. "I was just trying to see what kind of reaction I was going to get from him. I was surprised to see he was pretty defiant. He was walking up towards me and flashing his hands up and started yelling. That's when I felt that the pitch was intentional."

First Major League starts
Last pitchers to make their first Major League start in pinstripes (2005-2010)
Player Date IP H ER BB K
Ivan Nova 8/23/10 5.1 6 2 1 3
Alfredo Aceves 9/9/08 6 5 2 1 3
Dan Giese (L) 6/21/08 6.2 4 0 0 5
Joba Chamberlain 6/3/08 2.1 1 1 4 3
Brian Bruney 4/9/08 2 1 0 1 4
Ian Kennedy (W) 9/1/07 7 5 1 2 6
Tyler Clippard (W) 5/20/07 6 3 1 3 6
Matt DeSalvo 5/7/07 7 3 1 3 0
Phil Hughes (L) 4/26/07 4.1 7 4 1 5
Chase Wright (W) 4/17/07 5 5 3 3 3
Kei Igawa 4/7/07 5 8 7 3 2
Jeff Karstens 8/22/06 5.2 6 3 2 2
Scott Proctor 8/11/05 5 3 3 0 3
Sean Henn (L) 5/4/05 2.1 7 5 2 0
Chien-Ming Wang 4/30/05 7 6 2 2 0
Only words -- and no punches -- were exchanged as the game continued, with Bautista flying out to deep center on the next pitch. But Bautista would get the last laugh in the eighth, flipping his bat after connecting off Robertson and savoring a 28-second trot around the bases.

"I knew coming in there to try and stay out of his zone," Robertson said. "He's been pretty locked in. He hits fastballs, breaking balls -- anything that's in that area. I'd love to have that pitch back, but unfortunately it ran in there."

"Given what transpired earlier," Bautista said, "I enjoyed it pretty good."

The episode marred what was otherwise a promising start from Nova, who was 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and had made two relief appearances for the Yankees in May before getting this nod.

"He was great. Other than one pitch, he pitched outstanding," said Mark Teixeira. "A lot of pitchers come out and try to throw as hard as they can, and the ball is everywhere. His command was great. He's obviously got great stuff, 97 miles an hour. You love what you see there."

Nova walked off to a mixture of cheers and boos in the sixth, having completed 5 1/3 innings of two-run, six-hit ball. Impressing Girardi with his composure, Nova walked one and struck out three, which may be enough to earn him at least one more turn in the rotation.

"That's too early to talk about," said Girardi, who tends to discuss such matters with general manager Brian Cashman before committing.

The Yankees provided Nova with a lead before taking the mound, as Robinson Cano stroked a double to left field that Toronto's Fred Lewis attempted a running catch on, only to see it strike the wall and allow Nick Swisher enough time to score.

Brett Gardner bailed Nova out with an outfield assist in the first inning, cutting down Lewis at the plate trying to score. Nova said he was able to relax after that play, escaping the inning by striking out Adam Lind.

"When you first come here to the big leagues, you don't think it, but it's the same game you've been playing in Triple-A," Nova said.

The depleted Yankees lineup wasn't able to get a whole lot else going against Toronto starter Brandon Morrow, who turned in six innings and notched 12 strikeouts -- with some help from the umpiring crew, the Yankees would grumble.

"He was tough. He didn't give us much to hit at all. You've got to live with those nights sometimes," Teixeira said.

With Derek Jeter receiving a day off after playing 17 straight games and Alex Rodriguez limping around the clubhouse on the disabled list, the Yankees made do with four hits and two runs off Morrow, getting a sixth-inning RBI double from Jorge Posada to account for the rest of the damage.

"[Bautista] has been really tough on us, especially in this building," Girardi said. "They've hit their share of home runs on us. We need to do a little bit better job."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.