NEW YORK -- He had vowed to improve after his last start, Ivan Nova acknowledging he had not been good enough.
His New York Yankees teammates agreed, pushing him to find the form that helped him win 16 games last season. Nova would do so Wednesday night, offering the latest in a string of strong starts for the Yankees, who beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 at Yankee Stadium.
Along with Nova's eight innings of one-run ball, the Yankees also were assisted by home runs from Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez added back-to-back doubles in the eighth that provided some eventually needed breathing room.
Rafael Soriano retired the Rays' 3-4-5 hitters with a runner on third to earn his eighth save of the season as the Yankees won their third consecutive.
Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb took the loss despite pitching nearly as well as Nova in the crisply played pitchers' duel, as the Yankees moved into sole possession of second place, a half-game behind the Baltimore Orioles.
"Yeah, both pitchers pitched really well," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said after his team lost for the seventh time in its last 10 games to fall to third, one game back. "You have to give Nova credit, as well as Cobb. ... He pitched well enough to win that game, but their guy was outstanding."
Cano had told Nova after he gave up eight hits and five runs against the Angels in Anaheim he needed to start pitching and preparing better.
Then, after Andy Pettitte's latest stellar start Tuesday, which followed one by Phil Hughes, Pettitte approached Nova and delivered a succinct message that bordered on being a command.
"'Your turn,'" Nova remembered Pettitte telling him.
So Nova (7-2) made the most of his turn, tipping his cap as he received a loud ovation while walking off in the ninth, having surrendered just one run on four hits. For eight innings, he had shut out the Rays, allowing just two hits while striking out five, before Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton led off the ninth with back-to-back triples to make it 4-1.
"Yeah, you gotta step up," Nova said, when asked if he had been motivated by his fellow pitchers' recent performances. "You know you gotta do better."
Teixeira hit his 10th homer of the season, to right field, with one out in the second for a 1-0 lead. Cano hit a two-out solo shot in the fourth to make it 2-0.
"He didn't make many mistakes," Teixeira said of Cobb. "But I think he probably tried to throw a slider in, and he left it over the plate. Luckily, I was able to put a good swing on it."
Nova had allowed 18 runs in his last 24 innings and his teammates pushed him after his last start to match his potential.
"That makes you motivated," said Nova, who said he felt he had his good breaking ball in the bullpen and was able to keep the ball down through most of the game. "They know what I can do. They were trying to get me on the right page."
Cobb (2-2) was nearly as impressive, allowing only the home runs and a walk entering the eighth.
But then Raul Ibanez led off with a single, and Swisher and Chavez followed with doubles to right and left-center, respectively, to make it 4-0. Cobb (2-2) was done, having allowed just four hits while striking out four.
The runs gave an extra cushion to Soriano, who got Matt Joyce on a pop up, struck out Ben Zobrist and retired Hideki Matsui on a long fly to right to end the game.
"That doesn't surprise me," Maddon said of his ex-closer Soriano, who remained perfect on his save opportunities since taking the closer's role following injuries to Mariano Rivera and David Robertson. "Rafael likes that moment. ... He feels very confident in himself."
NOTES: Rivera's surgery to repair the torn ACL on his right knee has been scheduled for June 12 because his blood clot issue was resolved, he said. Rivera continued to promise he would come back next season, but said he did not expect to come back this year. ... Robertson was scheduled to throw batting practice Thursday and pitch in a minor league rehab game Sunday. When he returns, he will go back to his setup role with Soriano remaining the closer, manager Joe Girardi said. ... Outfielder Brett Gardner (right elbow) will likely play in a minor league rehab game for High-A Tampa on Thursday, Girardi said. ... Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (left hamstring) should need about a week to 10 days once he begins his rehab assignment, which should happen during the Rays' road trip, Maddon said. Longoria had told reporters he thought he could return by the middle of the month, but Maddon indicated he might take a more cautious approach. ... Outfielder/first baseman Brandon Allen was designated for assignment, but Maddon said he would "love to" keep him in the organization. Allen, who hit .154 in seven games for the Rays, is out of minor league options, so he would have to clear waivers before accepting a demotion.
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