Nova's first win a series-clincher for Yanks

Nova's first win a series-clincher for Yanks

CHICAGO -- With a sellout crowd around him and one of the hottest offenses in the league standing 60 feet, six inches away from him all afternoon, Ivan Nova resorted to some simple guidance: Just pretend it's Triple-A.

Nova could dominate hitters in Triple-A and well, according to his logic, "It's the same baseball." So why should the results be any different?

The zen of Nova appears to be catching on, after the 23-year-old right-hander picked up his first Major League win, shutting down that potent White Sox offense over 5 2/3 innings in the Yankees' 2-1 rubber-game victory.

"No nerves. ... No pressure at all," Nova said of the start. "Just emotions."

Nova, it seems, has a particular talent for insulating himself from the turmoil surrounding him, including the increasing uncertainty of the Yankees' rotation and the third-largest crowd to see a baseball game on Chicago's South Side this season.

It is, after all, the same baseball, and Nova has had little trouble making the big leaguers he's faced look just like the Triple-A hitters he dominated for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

"I sense that he can continue to throw pitches and not get unraveled," manager Joe Girardi said of a pitcher making his second career start. "He's going to make another start, I can tell you that. He's pitching great."

Nova's success derived from a fastball that consistently touched 96 mph on the radar gun and a curveball he could routinely spot for strikes. He added in a changeup when necessary, keeping the White Sox off balance all afternoon.

"When a guy is throwing in the 90s and throwing enough offspeed pitches over the plate for strikes and called strikes, that's a good combination -- and he did that," said Paul Konerko, who contributed one of five Chicago hits off Nova.

Nova scattered those five hits over 5 2/3 innings, allowing only one run in the fifth -- the only frame in which multiple White Sox reached base against him -- on a Juan Pierre two-out RBI single.

He struck out seven on the afternoon, easily the high mark of his brief career.

"I've got good stuff and I've got to use it," Nova said with the same matter-of-fact nonchalance that accompanied all of his postgame comments. "I'm just having fun, throwing strikes. That's it."

The rookie did throw a lot of strikes, with 58 of his 88 pitches finding the zone. He went to a three-ball count just twice in 23 hitters, and his only walk was issued to Konerko in the sixth, the second-to-last batter he faced.

He has now struck out 10 and walked two in his two Major League starts.

Nova's performance comes at a critical juncture for the Yankees, who allowed nine runs in each of the previous two contests with A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia -- their top two starters from last season's World Series champions -- on the mound. Nova solidified his slot in the rotation, and Girardi plans on keeping it the same, for now.

"It makes your decisions easier. We're asking a young man to step up, and he's doing it," Girardi said. "He's pitching lights-out."

"I don't think of that," said Nova of his place in the rotation. "I just wait for my turn. I don't make decisions. I just get ready to pitch any time that they tell me."

That tranquility on the mound has been a constant for Nova, according to his catcher, Francisco Cervelli.

"He's always been the same way," said Cervelli, who caught Nova in the Minor Leagues as well. "He's relaxed."

If Nova was Sunday's headliner, then Cervelli was a prominent undercard. The struggling backup catcher submitted his best game in weeks, knocking out a career-high four hits while scoring a run and catching pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge stealing in the eighth.

Asked when his last four-hit game was, Cervelli pondered for a second.

"I think," he said before a pause, "never. ... No chance. Just three."

His caught-stealing of Lillibridge, who came on to run when Konerko reached on an Eduardo Nunez error to lead off the eighth, helped preserve a one-run lead for Joba Chamberlain. It became all the more important when Chamberlain allowed a hit to Andruw Jones and uncorked a wild pitch before inducing an Alexei Ramirez ground ball to end the inning.

"I was ready," Cervelli said. "It was the right throw at the right moment."

The right throw, the right pitcher and the right win for the Yankees, who salvaged a .500 road trip despite dropping three of the first four games and playing the majority of the final two without their first baseman. Mark Teixeira was scratched on Sunday, the bone bruise on his right thumb causing pain the minute he picks up a bat.

Marcus Thames, getting a rare start against a right-hander, replaced Teixeira's power with another long home run to left field in the second -- his third in two games and his fifth in a span of 14 at-bats.

Who needs your regular third and fourth hitters when you have Nova, Cervelli and Thames stepping up?

"It's not something you want to do, but sometimes you have to win games like this when you're not going to score a lot of runs," Girardi said. "We were able to do that tonight."

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.