NEW YORK -- The Yankees had a plan in place for Eduardo Nunez. The shortstop was working his way back from a strained left oblique, and he was supposed to play a few more games at Double-A Trenton before being activated from the DL some time next week.
But when pitcher David Phelps was placed on the DL Saturday, the Yankees had a spot to fill on the roster. Nunez had only taken 16 at-bats on his rehab assignment, but manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees decided to take a chance and bring him back to the big leagues sooner than expected.
Nunez played the unexpected hero for the Yankees in his first game since May 5, driving in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning to lead New York to its sixth straight win, 5-4, over Baltimore.
"I feel excited. I feel very good. I'm happy to do what I love to do," Nunez said. "Come back and help the team to win."
The 26-year-old hit .375 with an RBI and three stolen bases over seven games between Class A and Double-A, and he continued to swing a hot bat in his first game back in pinstripes. Nunez finished the afternoon 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored, raising his average from .200 to .217.
He drove in the Yankees' second run of the game in his first at-bat, hitting a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the second inning. He scored the team's third run of the game three innings later, crossing the plate on Ichiro Suzuki's infield single. Nunez capped his impressive return in the sixth inning, singling to center to drive in the game-winning run from second.
"Younger players are always a little bit different sometimes," Girardi said. "You figured he wouldn't be as rusty. Nunie is kind of a free spirit, so I don't think Nunie thought much about having a lot of at-bats."
"It doesn't matter," Nunez said. "You have an at-bat here, you have an at-bat in Trenton -- it's the game either way. I feel good."
His performance provided the boost the Yankees needed to back a gritty performance from Andy Pettitte. The veteran left-hander allowed four runs over his first four innings but settled down after that, combining with relievers Shawn Kelley, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera to shut out the Orioles' offense over the final five innings.
Pettitte threw 6 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on nine hits and striking out four.
"I've been giving up a lot of runs early, and it's been a grind for me. I've been trying to grind as hard as I could to give this team a chance to win," Pettitte said. "You feel like this team is going to score some runs, so you hate putting us in a hole like I have been. So just real fortunate we were able to get back into it, get some big hits today and come away with a W."
The biggest blow against Pettitte came in the first inning, when Chris Davis increased his Major League-leading homer total, crushing his 33rd into Monument Park. The blast tied his single-season career high and gave the Orioles an early two-run cushion.
"The pitch, that was where I wanted to," Pettitte said. "I think he thought he hit a fly ball to center. I kind of watched his reaction. But the ball just kept going."
Pettitte seemed to settle down after that, though. Orioles second baseman Alexi Casilla hit an RBI double in the second inning and catcher Taylor Teagarden drove in a run in the fourth, but Pettitte limited the damage after that, retiring eight of the final 10 batters he faced.
While Pettitte didn't break, Baltimore starter Chris Tillman eventually did. The right-hander allowed 10 hits -- all singles - over 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs in the fifth and sixth innings after his offense spotted him an early two-run lead.
"He had a lot of little things add up," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's capable of better. We've seen him real good this year. He didn't implode."
He might not have imploded, but he bent enough to let the Yankees capture a season-high, six-game winning streak and a series victory over their division rival.
And they did it behind a guy who was still supposed to be taking rehab swings in Double-A.
"I know he didn't have a lot of reps, but we had a situation where someone went down and we called him up," Girardi said. "[Nunez] has the ability to swing the bat well and play defense, and that's what he did today."
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.