NEW YORK -- For a pitcher who has had tremendous success, in part thanks to his teammates' big bats, rookie Ivan Nova was the beneficiary of some great glove work as the Yankees won the series opener, 3-2, against the Blue Jays on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
Nova, who leads all big-league rookies with 15 victories and has not lost since June 3, was on the winning side of more than a few highlight-reel-caliber defensive plays.
"Combine our defense, and Nova got on a roll after the first inning, and we were able to shut them down," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
The turning point of the ballgame may have come earlier than anyone expected, as Nova's streak appeared to be in jeopardy right off the bat.
The right-hander walked Blue Jays leadoff hitter Yunel Escobar to start the game before surrendering back-to-back singles to Eric Thames and Jose Bautista, the second scoring Thames with the game's first run.
Toronto cleanup hitter Adam Lind then sliced a line drive to left field, where Brett Gardner made a running catch for the first out, on which Thames scored the second run of the inning. In the next at-bat, Gardner also made a sliding grab on a ball hit by Edwin Encarnacion, and doubled up Bautista at first to end the frame.
"Right before the pitch I moved over a little bit and got a good jump on it, and got it in for the double play to end the inning," Gardner said.
The speedy outfielder would later aid Nova at the plate, lining a two-run homer into the right-field seats in the third to knot the game at 2.
"Gardy had a huge night tonight," Girardi said. "Gardy drove in two, scored one and probably saved two or three. You look at the game, and that's the difference."
After Derek Jeter reached on a two-out single in the fifth, Robinson Cano drove him in for the go-ahead run.
By that time, Nova had settled down, and he faced just three batters in five of the six subsequent innings following the rocky first. Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth to collect his 37th save of the season, and now needs just five more to tie Trevor Hoffman (601) for the all-time record.
"A lot of credit goes to Nova," said Blue Jays acting manager Don Wakamatsu. "He came out in the first inning, I thought we jumped all over his fastball. ... Then Nova came out and I thought the key to his success was the breaking ball. I thought he threw it at any time, got ahead with it, bounced it, and from that point on I think it was four, five innings before we ever had another baserunner."
Since returning from a stint at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for nearly all of July, Nova has reeled off seven straight wins and owns an ERA of 3.44. His eight-start winning streak is the longest by a Yankees rookie since Marius Russo rattled off eight in a row in 1939.
"I've got everything this year," said Nova, whose teammates had provided him with 7.35 runs per nine innings entering Friday's start. "I knew they were going to score runs, and they said, 'We're going to score runs,' and I said, 'You better score them before I get out.' I also know we've got really good defense."
Andruw Jones, who made a leaping catch up against the wall in the fourth, teamed up with Curtis Granderson to make a couple of outstanding plays in the outfield behind Nova, helping propel the Yankees into first place in the American League East, as the Red Sox lost in Boston on Friday.
"It's the whole team," Jones said. "We have 25 guys -- well now we probably have 30 guys on the team -- and we all have got to be a part of it to get to where we need to be."