BALTIMORE -- Joe Girardi had a name for his New York Yankees after they completed a difficult, and potentially costly, 8-5 win over the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles on Monday night at Camden Yards: "The MASH unit."
Along the far wall of the clubhouse, his starting pitcher, Ivan Nova, was hobbling out after telling the media horde that his right ankle "feels really bad right now." Neither Nova nor his manager could say if the righty would be able to make his next start on Saturday at home against the Cincinnati Reds.
A couple of lockers away, David Robertson, the designated closer now that Mariano Rivera is lost for the season with a knee injury, was talking about a soreness along the left side of his rib cage that might be nothing, or might be an oblique injury. Either way, he is penciled in for one activity on Tuesday -- a trip to the hospital and probable encounters with an X-ray machine and an MRI tube.
Across the room, Mark Teixeira was mentioning that the bronchial infection that has left him hacking and wheezing for the past month really isn't a whole lot better, although he did manage a brief respite to be the batting star of the night, with a seventh-inning two-run homer that broke a 5-5 tie and a double that led to an insurance run in the ninth.
Raul Ibanez was having an bandage wrapped tightly around his right elbow, which became the bull's-eye for a Dana Eveland fastball in the ninth, and Clay Rapada had already left the building, having fallen victim to a head cold somewhere between his entrance into the game and the second batter he faced, which was also the last.
No wonder when Girardi was asked if he felt his team had not so much won this game as survived it, he emphatically said, "Yes. Barely."
How many survivors will be able to play Tuesday's game against the Orioles remains to be seen, because the injury and illness bug hasn't just dropped in on the Yankees, it has dropped on them like a roof under a heavy snowfall.
Teixeira insists he will keep on playing, and Ibanez insisted he will be fine -- although his elbow did resemble a ripe grapefruit as he left the clubhouse -- but there is no way of knowing how badly injured Nova or Robertson are, or when they will return to action.
Said Girardi: "It gives other guys an opportunity to shine. You got to be a little creative, but maybe some guys' roles have to increase. That's what good teams do. They find a way to get things done."
The way the Yankees did it Monday night was with Rafael Soriano as the closer-- he pitched what would have been a perfect ninth if Eric Chavez hadn't dropped a routine pop fly with two out -- and with David Phelps stepping in for Rapada, and coming away with the win, Boone Logan facing three batters and getting three strikeouts and Cory Wade coming on to strike out the only batter he faced.
And they did it with Teixeira, currently the most-maligned hitter in their lineup, coming up with the two biggest hits of the night, which will do little to alleviate his cough or raise his anemic batting average, but did earn his team a much-needed win.
"Yesterday I was the goat," Teixeira said. "Today you get to be the hero. That's baseball. You're going to be the goat a lot more than you're going to be the hero. But tonight, playing in this ballpark against the first-place team, it's a big win."
That's right, the Baltimore Orioles are the first-place team in what has long been baseball's toughest division, and not without merit. They battled the Yankees better than even for most of the night, battered Nova long before he hurt himself, and if nothing else showed they intend to be a factor in the AL East for a long time to come.
They can make things very tough for the Yankees, especially if Nova's injury is as bad as it appeared when he limped out of the clubhouse after the game.
He had taken a double whammy, getting nailed on the right ankle by a bullet off the bat of Nick Markakis in the third inning, and then turning the same ankle going up for a chopper hit by Wilson Betemit in the sixth.
Nova threw a couple of warmup pitches and stayed in the game after the first mishap, but didn't even try to convince Girardi to leave him in after the second. And anyway, the way he had pitched to that point did little to inspire confidence in his ability to continue.
The Orioles had hit Nova hard all game, from their first batter, Xavier Avery, who smacked a double off the base of the wall in the first inning for his first major league hit. Four innings later, Avery had his first major league RBI on his first major league triple, another rocket into the right-field corner, and the next batter, J.J. Hardy, crushed a home run into the left-field bleachers.
But with the bullpen short -- Girardi, as per his habit, did not reveal that Robertson was not available before the game -- there was no choice but to stick with Nova for as long as he could go. Thanks to Nick Swisher's two-run double in the fourth, Curtis Granderson's solo home run in the fifth, and a costly error by Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis in the sixth, Nova was able to leave with a no-decision and his deceptive 4-1 record intact. But his ERA -- now 5.44 -- was more indicative of the way he has pitched this season, and the way he pitched in this game.
"I didn't pitch really good today," he said. "I wasn't commanding my curveball. I made a lot of mistakes."
Still, the loss of Nova would be a blow, if only for the sheer numbers involved. It would mean that either Phelps or Freddy Garcia would have to be reinstated into the rotation, and either is, to borrow one of the manager's catchphrases, "not what you want to see."
"Basically, we're going to have to see how he feels tomorrow," Girardi said of Nova.
Asked if he thought Nova might miss his next start, Girardi said, "It could be. That's a possibility."
There was no possibility Robertson would work Monday night, nor, Girardi revealed, had he been available over the weekend after feeling the pain in his rib cage following a non-save appearance Friday night.
"I've never had anything like this," Robertson said. "So I don't really know what to expect."
The possible loss of Robertson, while significant, is the more easily survivable since Soriano has experience as a closer, having led the AL with 45 saves as a Tampa Bay Ray in 2010. Although Girardi has said Robertson would be his closer in Rivera's absence, Soriano's save Monday night was his second in the past four days and he is clearly more comfortable pitching the ninth inning than in any of the other roles the Yankees have used him in.
Asked if he might now reshuffle his bullpen once again in order to accommodate the potential loss of both Nova and Robertson, Girardi said, "I don't think I can worry about that right now. I think I gotta worry about trying to win the games up until we get to that point."
That point may be coming sooner than the manager wants to believe. Baseball teams occasionally get a day off. The MASH unit never closes.