NEW YORK - It's been a recipe for success for the New York Yankees for decades. Get a lead in the late innings, then turn it over to the bullpen to seal the deal. It's been a blueprint for winning, including six World Series titles in the last 20 years.
That's what the Yankees did Wednesday night in the series finale against the Houston Astros. They broke a 4-4 tie by manufacturing a run in the bottom of the sixth, then watched relievers Boone Logan, David Robertson and the immortal Mariano Rivera protect the one-run advantage, as the Yankees escaped with a 5-4 win Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
"We battled back to get the lead and then I love when our bullpen does that," said Logan, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to earn his second win against one loss this season. "When we get the lead and put up zeroes, we're hard to beat. I did my part and I felt just as excited when Mo got the last out."
Eduardo Nunez doubled to lead off the sixth inning and came in to score on a double play for the winning run that enabled the Yankees (17-10) to take two-of-three from the Astros (8-20), who played in their first American League series against the Yankees.
After the Yankees took the lead, Logan did his part, then David Robertson hurled a perfect eighth inning, striking out two.
"I felt like I had my basic command," Robertson said. "After we got the lead, we all pulled together and got a nice win. I was able to make a couple of nice pitches, then gave it to the best."
Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth for his 11th save of the season and increased his Major League record in saves to 619. He has not shown any sign of rust or age since missing most of the 2012 season with a torn ACL.
"He's been tremendous," said catcher Chris Stewart, who had a sacrifice fly to drive in the Yankees' second run in the second inning. "If he comes in, we know we're going to win. It's amazing the way he's come back. We have to be able to get the lead in the sixth, because with our bullpen, we'll be fine."
Rivera, whose 10 saves in April was the second best month of his brilliant career, opened May with another solid inning to nail down the win. After allowing a leadoff single to Brandon Barnes, Rivera got Matt Dominguez to line into an unassisted double play by Robinson Cano at second base. Rivera then struck out Marwin Gonzalez to end the game.
Nunez doubled off losing pitcher Paul Clemens (1-1), moved to third on a passed ball, then scored when Ichiro Suzuki grounded to first. Lyle Overbay, who had walked, remained in the rundown long enough to let Nunez score the game-winning run.
"I knew I couldn't run into the tag, so as soon as Ichiro hit it, I knew it was soft and I had to stop and wait," said Overbay, who doubled and walked twice in four at-bats. "I thought they might throw home. I'm out either way. I just stopped. It was sort of a no-brainer."
The play was applauded by Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
"It was very smart," Girardi said. "It took a heads up veteran player to make that play. Give Lyle credit, because he got us the winning run."
The Yankees wasted little time getting to Astros starter Eric Bedard, scoring single runs in both the first and second innings, then adding two solo homers in the third to take a 4-0 lead.
"He got into deep counts again and that really hurt us," Astros manager Bo Porter said of Bedard. "It got his pitch count up. But when you know your club is resilient and they're going to fight until the end every night. If we continue to play the way we did tonight, we'll be okay and win a lot of ball games."
Suzuki led off the game with a triple off the wall in right-center and scored on Jayson Nix's single, giving the Yanks a 1-0 lead. In the second inning, the Yankees drew three straight walks off Bedard and Stewart drove in one run with a sacrifice fly.
The Yankees got solo homers from Cano and Ben Francisco in the third.
For Cano, it was his eighth homer of the season, while it was the first homer and RBI for the struggling Francisco.
"I just hope it gets him going, because we're going to see a lot of left-handed pitching," Girardi said. "We're going to need him."
Yankee starter David Phelps gave the lead away in the top of the fourth, allowing four runs, tying the game at 4-4. Phelps hit two consecutive batters, the second being Fernando Martinez with the bases loaded to drive in a run. Carlos Pena and Dominguez both had RBI singles in the inning and Barnes drove in a run with a fielder's choice.
"You can't hit a guy with the bases loaded," Phelps said. "I could have done better."
NOTES: After the game, the Yankees announced that they had acquired infielder Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies for either cash considerations or a player to be named later. The 27-year-old Nelson played in 21 games with the Rockies this year, batting .242 with four RBI. He was designated for assignment April 28. Nelson is expected to arrive in New York in time for the Yankees' series with Oakland that begins Friday. ... Cano's homer was his 185th as a Yankee, drawing him even with Paul O'Neill for 17th place on the all-time Yankee home run list. ... Mark Teixiera, who had been rehabilitating a wrist injury in Tampa, was at the game and took some swings in the batting cage. "He took some swings and said he felt pretty good," Girardi said. "That's progress." ... The Yankees received word that OF Curtis Granderson (broken forearm) had his first two at-bats in an extended spring training game in Tampa. ... Yankees 3B Kevin Youkilis revealed he has a bulging disc in his back, thus the reason for his current status on the disabled list. Youkilis received an epidural shot on Tuesday. He was feeling better. ... Jose Altuve had two hits Tuesday, giving him 35 for the month of April, setting a new club record for hits for a second baseman in April. Craig Biggio had 33 in April of 1998. Altuve had 31 last year in his rookie season.