Bronx, NY – Making his first start in nearly a month, Ivan Nova struck out eight over six-plus innings and the New York Yankees held off the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-3, in the middle test of a three-game set at Yankee Stadium.
Nova (12-7) had been sidelined since Aug. 21 with inflammation in his right rotator cuff, but the right-hander allowed just two runs on four hits and two walks to earn his first victory since Aug. 11.
"I wasn't really expecting him to get into the seventh, but he kept his pitch count down and the way he was throwing...we just kept him going." Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Nova. "I was extremely impressed with his stuff today and his command and what he did out there."
Rafael Soriano fired a scoreless ninth to secure his 39th save of the season and New York's third win in its last four games.
Curtis Granderson clubbed a two-run homer and Eduardo Nunez followed with a solo shot in the second, as the Yankees regained a one-game lead over Baltimore atop the AL East. The Orioles lost in Oakland later on Saturday.
James Shields (14-9) yielded four runs on six hits and a walk over 6 1/3 frames to absorb the loss.
Evan Longoria smacked a solo homer and Luke Scott ripped a pinch-hit, two-run single in the seventh, but the Rays lost for the fourth time in their last five games and renmained three games behind the O's for the final AL Wild Card spot.
"It's the offense," Longoria said of the club's recent struggles. "We gotta get hits. We gotta produce runs. However we have to do it, we gotta do it. The time is now."
The Yankees struck first in the bottom of the second inning as Raul Ibanez worked a leadoff walk and Granderson followed two batters later with his 39th homer of the year into the right-field seats.
Three pitches later, Nunez launched a cutter over the left-field wall for his first home run of the season.
New York manufactured another run in the fifth when Ichiro Suzuki ripped a two-out single, stole second and then crossed home on Derek Jeter's base hit back up the middle for a 4-0 advantage.
Tampa Bay finally broke through in the sixth on Longoria's two-out, solo shot into the bullpen in right-center field.
Jeff Keppinger stroked a leadoff single in the seventh to chase Nova from the contest. Boone Logan entered and got pinch-hitter Ben Francisco to bunt into a force out before Ryan Roberts' double put runners on second and third.
Joba Chamberlain then took over on the bump and induced a grounder back to the mound from pinch-hitter Sam Fuld for the second out, but Scott came through with a pinch-hit single into right field to plate a pair and trim the margin to 4-3.
Chamberlain fanned Desmond Jennings to escape the seventh and David Robertson retired the Rays in order in the eighth.
The Yankees tacked on an insurance run in the bottom half as Robinson Cano ripped a liner that got B.J. Upton turned around in center field. Cano was awarded a double and Alex Rodriguez quickly scored him with a single back up the middle to extend the lead to 5-3.
Soriano then worked around a one-out single and a two-out walk in the ninth to finish off the victory.
Rays reliever Jake McGee allowed Rodriguez's RBI single in the eighth, ending his scoreless streak at 18-straight appearances ... The Rays activated shortstop Sean Rodriguez from the 15-day disabled list before the game ... Nova was activated from 15-day DL on Sept. 8 ... Granderson has five home runs in his last six games.