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Boss-a Nova: Bucs win behind stellar ex-Yank

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Yes, that's the same Ivan Nova. Facing his former team for the first time, Nova put together the kind of performance he's become known for since joining the Pirates, firing seven efficient innings and leading the Bucs to a 2-1 victory and series win over the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.

Nova, a Yankee from the time he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 until he was traded this past August, held New York to four hits and a walk while striking out seven. He confidently pounded the strike zone, as he's done with confidence for the Pirates and worked quickly, two staples of his 15 starts with the Pirates.

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PITTSBURGH -- Yes, that's the same Ivan Nova. Facing his former team for the first time, Nova put together the kind of performance he's become known for since joining the Pirates, firing seven efficient innings and leading the Bucs to a 2-1 victory and series win over the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.

Nova, a Yankee from the time he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 until he was traded this past August, held New York to four hits and a walk while striking out seven. He confidently pounded the strike zone, as he's done with confidence for the Pirates and worked quickly, two staples of his 15 starts with the Pirates.

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"I always thought he had good stuff," Yankees third baseman Chase Headley said. "Sometimes, you know, a different voice or a different location -- and I don't mean that as a shot towards our guys -- but sometimes guys go elsewhere, and it benefits them."

Video: NYY@PIT: Hurdle on Nova's performance in 2-1 win

After catching up with his friends and former teammates the past two days, Nova said Sunday was just another game for him -- no added pressure or incentive, nothing else on the line.

"We have a really good plan going on. It doesn't matter if we're facing our former teammates," Nova said. "We always have a really good plan and just want to follow it."

But his catcher, another former Yankee, saw it differently.

Video: NYY@PIT: Girardi on Montgomery, loss to Pirates

"Coming in, you knew it was going to be something special playing against the team he grew up with," Chris Stewart said. "I know he wanted to get a win, a little extra motivation today. He was outstanding."

The Bucs loaded the bases twice and emerged with only one run on David Freese's first-inning sacrifice fly, but Pittsburgh's offensive support and clean defense was enough behind Nova. Jacoby Ellsbury homered off Nova in the seventh, the only blemish on his record as he lowered his ERA to 2.00 after four starts. His lone walk, the first he's issued all season, came against his mound opponent, rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery. "It's not what you want," Nova said.

Video: NYY@PIT: Freese skies sac fly to start scoring

Montgomery limited the Pirates to two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings in his third Major League start. But after scoring 11 runs on Saturday, the Yankees could not back Montgomery's quality outing. Starlin Castro struck out against Pirates setup man Daniel Hudson to strand two runners in the eighth. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but closer Tony Watson struck out Aaron Hicks and induced Pete Kozma's game-ending grounder.

Video: NYY@PIT: Watson induces a grounder to earn the save

"That's what back-end relief pitching is all about," Watson said. "Just try to make your pitches, and good things will happen."

Watson, Hudson show grit under pressure

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Cleaning up: The Pirates put Gregory Polanco in the cleanup spot this season because they believe he will be a run producer, and because they believe he will deliver more hits like his third-inning RBI double off Montgomery. With Andrew McCutchen on base after a one-out walk, Polanco pulled a double to right field. McCutchen hustled around the bases and ran through a late stop sign from third-base coach Joey Cora to score from first, giving the Pirates a 2-0 lead on Polanco's fourth RBI of the season.

Video: NYY@PIT: Polanco lines an RBI double to right field

"Nothing bodes confidence like a little success," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Those things can all build together. He's done it before. Little something like that every once in a while can light a spark, light a fire, get some momentum on his side."

No Judging: The Yankees did not have many chances to score against Nova, but they saw one opportunity vanish quickly in the fourth inning. With one out, Castro knocked a clean single to center field, the Yanks' first hit of the game. Ellsbury followed with another single to center, pushing Castro into scoring position. Up came right fielder Aaron Judge, who crushed a ball 457 feet to left field on Saturday. Judge swung at Nova's first pitch, a high fastball, and rolled over it. Shortstop Jordy Mercer picked it up and started an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.

Video: NYY@PIT: Mercer fields grounder and turns two

"He's a good hitter. He's been hitting the ball real hard," Nova said. "I was thinking, 'Make a good pitch inside so I can get a double play.' I made a good pitch up on the hands, and we got it."

QUOTABLE
"Yesterday, I got the chance to go say hi to a lot of the guys. They were happy to see me. A lot of them came back and hugged me. But they knew today was game day. Just try to stay focused on the game. It was good to see them." -- Nova

"He did what we thought he would do. He does a good job of staying in the strike zone. He tries to work ahead, he doesn't get behind many guys, he doesn't walk too many guys. I felt we swung the bats better than we got credit for. We hit some balls well that were outs, but he threw the ball well. -- Brett Gardner, on Nova

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With one out in the second inning, Stewart hit a fly ball to left-center field and Ellsbury couldn't quite run it down. Pittsburgh's 35-year-old backup catcher legged out a triple, his first in the Majors. It was his first triple at any level since June 11, 2010, when he tripled for the Triple-A Portland club that no longer exists.

"I saw him fall or tumble, and I think that's what it's going to take for me to get around to third," Stewart said. "Just kept chugging and fortunately made it in there."

Video: NYY@PIT: Stewart smacks first career triple

Stewart's first triple came in his 1,182nd career plate appearance. He had been the active leader in plate appearances without a triple. The new leader in that category is Bobby Wilson, who has made 849 trips to the plate without a triple.

"I would have rather hit a home run and just trotted around to save some energy," Stewart said. "At the same time, it was fun. I finally got that. I can retire a happy man now."

Video: NYY@PIT: Stewart on Nova, his first career triple

WHAT'S NEXT
Yankees: After an off-day, the club opens a three-game series Tuesday against the rival Red Sox at Fenway Park at 7:10 p.m. ET on MLB.TV. Right-hander Luis Severino, coming off a 10-strikeout, no-walk outing against the White Sox, faces 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, who was not sharp in his first three outings before turning in a creditable performance (seven innings, no earned runs) against Toronto.

Pirates: The Pirates will begin a three-game series against the Cubs at PNC Park on Monday night. Right-hander Chad Kuhl, coming off consecutive quality starts, will pitch the 7:05 ET opener against Cubs lefty Brett Anderson on MLB.TV. The Bucs, who pulled off a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field last week, went 3-6 against the Cubs at home last season.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

Bob Cohn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh, who covered the Yankees on Sunday.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Jordan Montgomery, Ivan Nova, Gregory Polanco