For five innings on Saturday afternoon, a pitching duel unfolded between David Price and Ivan Nova. Both starters had somewhat-high pitch counts, but through some impressive work, the game was scoreless entering the top of the sixth. Then, Nova wilted, Joe Girardi strangely left him in the game with Adam Warren ready in the bullpen, and the matinée went to hell.
It was mostly a fine start for Nova, despite throwing over 20 pitches in each of the first two innings. He threw five shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six Blue Jays, nearly mastering a very powerful lineup. On the other side, Price was completely unlike the lefty who struggled his last two outings against the Yankees. They were hitless through three, ended up with just three on the day, and put just two runners in scoring position for his seven excellent innings.
Nova and the bullpen were tasked with keeping the Yankees in the game, but he ran into trouble with one out and no on base in the sixth. Josh Donaldson worked a walk, the first of the day against Nova. Jose Bautista caught a lucky break on a check-swing no-call that altered the course of the at-bat, and he smashed a single through the left side. Next, Edwin Encarnacion walked on four straight balls. Nova was now over 100 pitches in a game for the first time since before his Tommy John surgery, and in the last two at-bats, it was pretty clear that he was just about out of gas. Warren was standing in the bullpen, finished with his warm-ups. Girardi talked with pitching coach Larry Rothschild and visibly debated the decision to remove Nova.
Nova stayed in. His second pitch to Justin Smoak did not.
Normally, I'm fine with Girardi's bullpen management. It's not that much of a coincidence that the Yankees have, by some measures, the best bullpen in baseball both in 2015 and since he took over in 2008. However, it was annoyingly evident that Nova was done, and he had a darn good pitcher ready in Warren. Alas. Smoak's huge grand slam to right made it 4-0, Blue Jays, and just about settled the game with Price blowing through the Yankees' lineup with ease.
To rub salt on the wound, Warren struck out the two hitters he faced to end the inning after Girardi took Nova out. Toronto tacked on a couple runs against Bryan Mitchell on a Troy Tulowitzki solo homer and a slow roller by Russell Martin that went for an RBI infield single. Those runs were somewhat irrelevant though, as the Yankees went down in order against Aaron Sanchez in the eighth and Mark Lowe in the ninth.
Having lost a series for the first time since June (please keep that in mind), the Yankees will look to avoid the sweep tomorrow afternoon with Masahiro Tanaka facing Marco Estrada. They still hold a four-game lead in the loss column. The sky is not falling just yet.