NEW YORK -- Ivan Nova finally pitched a complete game and one thought entered his mind as the New York Yankees headed to the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday night.
"It was impossible I could pitch that way and we could lose the game," Nova said.
Vernon Wells ensured that one of the best outings of Nova's career was not wasted. Wells singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth, lifting the Yankees to a 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
Nova made a spot start for Hiroki Kuroda (sore left hip) and allowed a two-run homer to Matt Wieters in the second inning that bounced off the top of the left field wall. He gave up three hits, struck out 11 (one shy of his career high) and became the first Yankee to strike out that many in a complete game while allowing three hits or fewer since Mike Mussina on Sept. 24, 2002.
"His curveball was about as good as I've seen a curveball from anyone," Wells said. "It was in the zone and out of the zone in a heartbeat. You could tell by some of the swings that guys took that they weren't picking it up."
Yankees catcher Chris Stewart said, "That's about as good as I've seen him. He could have easily thrown a complete-game shutout tonight if that ball didn't sneak out. He was outstanding."
Until Wells had his fifth game-ending hit and first since Aug. 5, 2011, it appeared Nova was in line for one of the toughest losses of his career. He allowed one base runner after Wieters homered, but the Yankees squandered numerous chances, going 2-for-12 with men on base until the ninth.
The comeback started against Baltimore closer Jim Johnson (2-7) when David Adams lined a 1-1 pitch into right field for a base hit. Wells was put in a position to get the hit when Brett Gardner's bunt was bobbled by Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki sacrificed and the Orioles intentionally walked Robinson Cano for a second time.
After Travis Hafner drew a four-pitch walk that forged a 2-2 tie, Wells got ahead before evening the count. Then he poked a 2-2 fastball just out of the range of third baseman Manny Machado and into left field, touching off a raucous celebration that ended with Wells getting a pie in the face during his postgame interview.
"Those are fun," Wells said. "Anytime you jump around, get punched a little bit after doing something good, it's a good time. Those are times where you see the kid come out in us."
"Really good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the ninth-inning at-bats. "Jim Johnson's a very good closer. He's had a lot of success in that role and he's not a guy that gives up a lot of runs. It's kind of hard to get the ball in the air off of him as well and David Adams had a great at-bat and the guys just kind of plugged away."
Before Wells gave New York its fifth straight win, the Yankees were on the verge of falling to 1-26 when scoring two runs or fewer and dropping their sixth straight to the Orioles. Instead, they equaled their longest winning streak of the season and improved to 15-8 in one-run games.
"That team over there has had our number; they've played against us even in the games that we won," Wells said. "Tonight, they did the same. We were just able to come through late, but we need to win games like that. We haven't done it enough."
The Orioles lost for the third time in four games and also suffered their 13th one-run loss and seventh defeat when leading after eight innings.
"We have been (good in one-run games) this year at times and we will again," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "That's part of it. It's one of the challenges that you face."
Before Johnson blew his league-leading sixth save, Miguel Gonzalez was in the line for the win. Gonzalez held the Yankees to an RBI single by Luis Cruz in the fourth among four hits in six innings.
NOTES: New York 3B Alex Rodriguez (hip) was slated to play in his third rehab game, for Class A Tampa in the first game of a doubleheader with Lakeland, but the game was rained out. Rodriguez is 0-for-4 since starting his rehab assignment Tuesday with Class A Charleston. ... SS Derek Jeter (ankle) will start his rehab assignment on Saturday night for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will play at least five innings. ... The Yankees begin the second half with a three-game series at Boston, but general manager Brian Cashman said he will not feel pressure to activate both. ... RHP Wei-Yin Chen was with the Orioles after pitching seven innings in a rehab start for Double-A Bowie on Thursday. Chen has been on the DL since May 14 with a strained right oblique and the Orioles will make a decision on whether to activate him after a bullpen session on Saturday or Sunday. Showalter also hinted the team could use a six-man rotation when Chen is activated.