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BAL@NYY: Yankees pull ahead early with five-run first

NEW YORK -- Ivan Nova believed that his stuff had been passable after he left the mound on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium; the right-hander opined that it was just his luck that had been rotten. His manager wouldn't exactly sign up for that assessment.

What both Nova and Joe Girardi could agree on was that the hurler had been hit hard and often by the Orioles. Nova was battered in a seven-run second inning, highlighted by Chris Davis' grand slam, as the Yankees fell, 11-5, for their fourth consecutive defeat.

"I had a bad day, but I don't feel that way," Nova said. "I felt really good in that inning, too. I just got hit. I left a hanging curveball, and he hit a homer. I think overall, it was a tough night for me. I feel like I had command of my pitches; I just got hit."

Girardi didn't mince words in analyzing the performance, in which the Yankees wasted their five-run first inning against Chris Tillman and lost for the ninth time in 12 games. It looked like the Bombers might cruise to a victory, but Nova's second inning quickly flushed those hopes.

"He had no fastball command, inconsistent slider, inconsistent curveball," Girardi said. "He worked his tail end off after he gave up two singles in a row in the second inning to get two outs and two strikes, then threw a slider [to Mark Reynolds] that didn't break. It just kind of snowballed after that."

Reynolds ripped an RBI ground-rule double and Omar Quintanilla followed with a two-run single before Nova loaded the bases for Davis, who slugged his first career grand slam into the visitors' bullpen to stun the crowd of 42,821.

"It's definitely more exciting being on the other end of that," Davis said. "It felt like the first inning was never going to end. We were able to come out there and take back the momentum and really quiet the crowd."

Nova accepted the blame for coughing up the Bombers' five-run first-inning display, in which Robinson Cano crushed a two-run homer to snap his 0-for-14 skid. Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki and Russell Martin also knocked in runs.

"It was on me to keep that lead," Nova said. "Unfortunately, I didn't do it today. I just need to turn the page and get a fresh start after tomorrow. It's a new month, and I think I had a bad month overall. I just need to turn the page and start a new month tomorrow."

It was the seventh time this season that Nova has allowed five earned runs or more in an outing, and the third time in July alone. Nova has intermittently had problems with focus in efforts, and while he said that wasn't the case on Tuesday, Girardi didn't discount the idea.

"He'd better get it back, or it's going to happen a lot," Girardi said. "You can't lose focus. You're a Major League pitcher. You have to be able to put things behind you if you make a bad pitch. You've got to be able to get the next guy out."

Nova made it through five frames, soaking up 93 pitches to save the bullpen while permitting 10 hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He became the first Yankees pitcher to allow nine runs in a start at the current Yankee Stadium.

"We've got a lot of faith in him," Nick Swisher said. "A bad game here or there, we can look past that. I think more than anything, it just seemed like a lot of runs came on two outs. We've just got to do a better job of closing out innings -- defensively, our pitching, the whole nine."

Wielding that early five-run lead like a weapon, the Yankees wouldn't have expected at the time that it would be their offense's last gasp. Then again, they also weren't counting on Nova to turn in such a forgettable performance.

"I think things really haven't been going our way the past week or so," Swisher said. "But we're a no-excuse team. We've just got to battle through this tough time. We've got a lot of guys banged up. We're starting to get some guys back. We've just got to go out and play some better baseball right now."

Wilson Betemit added RBI singles in the third and fifth innings against Nova, and Nick Markakis added a two-run homer facing Clay Rapada in the eighth. New York's lead in the American League East shrank to 5 1/2 games.

"That's why we get up in the morning, to try to win your division," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's going to be hard. They're extremely good. There are other teams trying to do the same thing, so we've got our work cut out for us. But we've had a couple good tests here and responded well."

Despite battling illness, Tillman completed five innings and permitted eight hits. Troy Patton hurled two scoreless innings before Matt Lindstrom and former Yankee Luis Ayala finished the drubbing.

"We're not playing well, there's no doubt about it," Girardi said. "We've been through streaks before where we haven't played well and we've bounced back. That's all we need to do."

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