When Yankees second baseman Stephen Drew fielded a routine grounder and threw cleanly to first baseman Mark Teixeira for the final out of the fifth inning, pitcher Ivan Nova aggressively slapped his glove several times.
Nova was most likely upset with himself for creating his own trouble, walking two batters — the potential tying and go-ahead runs — to start the inning. But he may also have been congratulating himself for pitching out of the mess.
The way the Yankees have played this season, building a four-and-a-half-game lead in the American League East entering Wednesday, their starting pitchers have not been asked for much — simply to keep the team in the game and hope its big bats can provide a lead for the bullpen, which has been among the best in baseball.
The Yankees, who have scored more first-inning runs than any other team in the major leagues, were once again staked to an early advantage when Brett Gardner singled in Jacoby Ellsbury and then scored on Teixeira’s 24th home run of the season.
Nova, who improved to 2-3 since returning from Tommy John surgery, walked three and allowed three hits and two runs, both of which came on a Ryan Flaherty home run in the second inning. The Orioles had other chances, but Nova twice stranded runners in scoring position.
Flaherty’s home run sliced the Yankees’ lead to 3-2, which Nova maintained until Alex Rodriguez hit a solo shot in the fifth, his 20th home run of the season.
The margin was enough for the Yankees’ bullpen, which got perfect seventh and eighth innings from Chasen Shreve and Dellin Betances. Andrew Miller allowed a solo home run by Chris Davis with two outs in the ninth but responded by striking out Jonathan Schoop on three pitches to earn his 22nd save.
It was the second consecutive one-run win by the Yankees, who increased their lead over the Orioles, the defending division champions, to six games.
The Orioles’ frustration was most evident in the eighth, when Caleb Joseph hit a line drive right at Yankees third baseman Chase Headley and Manny Machado struck out on a checked swing, after which he glared at the first-base umpire, Todd Tichenor, as he retreated to the dugout.