CHICAGO - A Nova is supposed to be a bright, shining type of star.
But a Nova of another kind - the New York Yankees' Ivan Nova - has been anything but bright and shining of late. In fact, you might say he's looking less like a star and more like a rusty, banged up Chevy Nova from the 1970s that's not hitting on all cylinders.
In eight starts since the All-Star break, Nova has compiled a disastrous 1-4 record with a 7.28 ERA.
He hoped things would get better with Tuesday night's start at Chicago - and it looked like they would for a while, as Nova scattered three hits and allowed just two runs in the first four innings.
But as things turned out, it ultimately became more of the same for the now 11-7 Nova -- who at one point was 10-3 before his recent run of misfortune -- as the White Sox took the second straight game of the series from the Yankees, 7-3 at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's consistency and mechanics; he knows what to do," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Nova's outing. "I'm sure it can eat away at you and get frustrating, but he's found ways to turn it around before. He can do it again."
Until the bottom of the fifth inning, Nova's consistency and mechanics looked great. Then the ceiling caved in.
Chicago's Alexei Ramirez doubled to center, Gordon Beckham walked and Dewayne Wise singled to short right field, loading the bases for Youkilis.
It didn't take the former Boston Red Sox star long to find a pitch to his liking, slamming a 1-0 fastball from Nova into the right field bullpen, making it a 6-2 Chicago advantage. It was Youkilis' 15th home run of the season and his third career major league grand slam, the most recent coming earlier this year, also at U.S. Cellular Field, before he was traded from the Red Sox to Chicago.
It was also the beginning of the end for Nova, who stuck around one more inning before Girardi mercifully pulled him to start the seventh inning.
"He just has to keep working," Girardi said of Nova. "That's all you can do. ... Facing Youkilis was the big hit."
Indeed it was, Nova agreed.
"I left a pitch hang right over the plate, one more time I've screwed up," a dejected Nova said of the fastball that Youkilis parked. "I'm really mad at myself right now. I'm not happy. I'm working hard, but it keeps biting me."
Nova has been studying film of his recent outings - and he'll certainly add Tuesday's outing to his viewing schedule in the next few days - but he is at a loss to come up with an explanation of his recent skid.
"I've got to look at everything, but I don't see anything," he said when asked about Girardi's comments about his mechanics perhaps being off.
As for the Yankees' two-game losing skid to the White Sox (67-55), dropping New York's overall record to 72-51, Girardi was matter of fact: "We just need some opportunities."
Opportunities are also what Nova has had, but with CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte both due to come off long stints on the disabled list in the next few weeks, it could mean Nova may lose his starting role - which he acquired when both hurlers went down with their respective injuries earlier in the season.
"I'm not worried about that," Nova said with a tinge of terseness in his voice.
But a few seconds later, Nova tried to be philosophical about the whole turn of events.
"It was really only one (bad) pitch," he said. "It's always just one pitch."
In a way, Tuesday's game was a battle of two pitchers who have struggled of late: Nova and winning White Sox starter Francisco Liriano, who saw his terrible 2012 record improve slightly to 5-12 with the victory.
The Yankees - or more specifically, Derek Jeter - wasted little time getting started in Tuesday's game. Jeter, who had four hits in Monday's series opener, including a home run and double, hit the first pitch of the game off Liriano into the left-field stands. It was Jeter's 12th home run of the season.
Liriano's start mirrored that of Monday's starter for the White Sox, Gavin Floyd, who struggled right from the first pitch and didn't even make it past the third inning. After Jeter's solo blast, Liriano loaded the bases on a single by Nick Swisher and back-to-back walks to Mark Teixeira and Andruw Jones.
Curtis Granderson hit into a fielder's choice that scored Swisher, but forced Jones at second, making it a 2-0 Yankees lead.
But unlike Floyd's outing on Monday, Liriano settled down and became a very effective pitcher from that point through the sixth inning, scattering four hits and a walk, while also striking out five. He left after the sixth, giving way to reliever Jesse Crain.
The White Sox got on the board in the bottom of the second when Alex Rios tripled into the right-center field gap, followed by a run-scoring sacrifice fly by A.J. Pierzynski. Of defensive note on that play, Yankees left fielder Jones made an outstanding on-target throw to the plate, but the sliding Rios managed to beat the tag by a split-second.
Chicago tied the score 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth when Paul Konerko smashed a one-out home run, just barely clearing the left field wall.
After Youkilis' heroics in the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees closed the score to 6-3 in the top of the seventh when Russell Martin led off the inning against White Sox reliever Crain with his 14th home run into the left field stands.
Chicago threatened again in the bottom of the seventh against reliever Derek Lowe. Beckham led off with a single to center, Wise followed with a single to left and then Lowe intentionally walked Dunn to load the bases. Konerko struck out swinging for the second out, and Lowe got Rios to ground out to second to strand all three runners and fail to score any insurance runs.
But the White Sox finally got some of the insurance they were looking for in the previous inning in the bottom of the eighth. Pierzynski tripled into the right-center field gap, and two outs later, Beckham waited Lowe out until he finally got the pitch he was looking for, lofting a bloop single to short right that scored Pierzynski.
Wise followed with his fourth single of the game - a career high - pushing Beckham to second, but Youkilis hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
Not only was Nova disappointed with his outing, there was another disappointment as well. How can you have a game between two current American League divisional leaders, particularly longtime rivals such as the White Sox and Yankees, and draw a meager crowd of just 24,247, more than 3,000 less than Monday night's crowd?
NOTES: If the Yankees have looked somewhat tired the last two nights in Chicago, there's a pretty good reason: Wednesday will be the 20th straight game the Yankees have played without a day off, which finally comes Thursday before they resume their current road trip at Cleveland on Friday, with a three-game set against the Indians. Even though they return to New York after that, the Yanks will play 16 of their next 22 games (starting with Monday night's game at Chicago) away from Yankee Stadium. ... Wednesday's series rotation will match Yankee righty Phil Hughes (12-10) against White Sox southpaw Chris Sale (14-4).
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