By WILL GRAVES
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Ivan Nova spent more than six years with the New York Yankees, fluctuating between good and not-so good as they waited for him to develop consistency to go with his occasionally top-end-of-the-rotation stuff.
It never happened and the Yankees moved on last summer, sending Nova to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline.
Nine months after leaving New York, Nova looks like the guy the Yankees wanted all along. Nova provided his old team with a close-up look at what it’s missing on Sunday, pitching four-hit ball over seven innings as the Pirates held on for a 2-1 victory.
Nova (2-2) holds no ill will over his departure, saying simply “it’s business.” If anything, he’s found a comfort zone with the Pirates that eluded him in New York. Nova improved to 7-4 with a 2.76 ERA since arriving in Pittsburgh.
“Those guys give me the confidence to go out there and perform,” Nova said. “I’m just trying not to let them down, go out and pitch.”
Nova struck out a season-high seven and walked just one. His lone mistake came on a solo home run by Jacoby Ellsbury in the seventh. He needed just 86 pitches to get 21 outs, symptomatic of the efficiency he’s discovered in the National League.
New York manager Joe Girardi shook his head when asked if the Yankees had any seller’s remorse over letting Nova go.
The Yankees nearly spoiled Nova’s shot at redemption. They put the tying run at third in the eighth but Pittsburgh reliever Daniel Hudson struck out Starlin Castro in a nine-pitch at bat. New York loaded the bases with one out against Pirates closer Tony Watson in the ninth on a single, a walk and an error by Pittsburgh second baseman Josh Harrison. Watson struck out Aaron Hicks then forced Pete Kozma into a fielders’ choice to collect his sixth save.
“That’s what back-end relief pitching is all about, is keeping your focus,” Watson said. “Not ideal, but in the end, it all worked.”
Andrew McCutchen reached base twice and scored on a double by Gregory Polanco off Jordan Montgomery (1-1). David Freese added a sacrifice fly for Pittsburgh, which won despite going just 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
Ellsbury’s second home run of the season was New York’s only extra-base hit. Montgomery struck out five and walked two in his fourth career start. The Yankees fell to 3-6 on the road this season.
∫ LEARNING CURVE: Montgomery, who won his first game in the majors in his last start, gave up two runs in six innings. It didn’t look like he’d make it that far early. Pittsburgh loaded the bases with no outs in the first but managed just one run on Freese’s sacrifice fly to the warning track in center. Pittsburgh’s only other run came in the third when McCutchen scored from first on Polanco’s double to the right-field wall.
Considering the 24-year-old Montgomery never felt comfortable most of the afternoon, he’ll take it.
“I mean, if you can go six innings, two runs with nothing, obviously I deserve to be here,” Montgomery said.
∫ LONG TIME COMING: Pittsburgh catcher Chris Stewart hit the first triple of his 11-year big league career when he chugged to third after hitting a fly to deep center field just out of the reach of Ellsbury. The triple came in Stewart’s 1,182nd plate appearance.