Nix's late delivery from New York's bench supplemented Derek Jeter's first-inning homer as the Yankees headed home with two victories on their Seattle stay, coming after the club lost four straight to the Athletics in Oakland.
"After losing five games by a total of six runs, to be able to win a series was important going into an off-day," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "2-5 is not what we want, but we won the second series of the road trip, and it will be a happier plane flight."
David Phelps earned the victory with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless, hitless relief after starter Ivan Nova survived five-plus wild innings, walking a career-high six batters. Rafael Soriano silenced his former team in the ninth, recording his 26th save in 28 chances.
The Yankees have had plenty to overcome this year, from losing Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner for the season, to lesser injuries to Joba Chamberlain, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and now A-Rod. Thus far, they've not only survived, but flourished.
"You can't play this game every day and think about what happened the previous day," Jeter said. "We want to win every time we take the field, so it's good for us to win this game here."
New York trailed by a run going to the eighth, when Jeter was hit on the left thigh by Josh Kinney to start the inning.
Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira greeted Lucas Luetge with singles, and after Curtis Granderson popped out in foul territory, Nix was summoned from the bench as the Mariners went to Kelley, a right-hander. Girardi said he has loved the presence of Nix, a utility man.
"This is a professional guy who really works hard at playing the four positions that we ask him to play," Girardi said. "He's always prepared. I looked at him and I said, 'Are you prepared to hit?' And he said, 'Yes, I am.'"
Nix, who figures to see an increase in playing time following Rodriguez's injury, laced a loud double up the left-center-field gap as Jeter, Cano and Teixeira were all waved home. Russell Martin added a run-scoring single later in the frame off Kelley.
"I try to think along with the game and think along with situations about what possibly could happen, so I'm never surprised," Nix said. "I never assume anything. Then throughout the game, I have my routine throughout the innings of what I do to make sure I'm loose and ready."
Jeter batted in the second spot in the order, a move that Girardi suggests may continue with Ichiro Suzuki elevated to leadoff. Jeter touched up Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma for his eighth homer, and Girardi said he liked the early returns on the Ichiro-Jeter tandem.
"It was good today," Girardi said. "I'm not sure what we'll do against the lefty [Jon Lester] on Saturday, but I do like it."
Iwakuma, a pitcher the Yankees had never seen, settled in from there and limited New York to six hits over five innings. The right-hander walked three and struck out three.
Nova allowed his only two runs in the first inning. After allowing singles to Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero, Nova lost command of the strike zone and walked both John Jaso and Kyle Seager, forcing home a run.
Mike Carp reached on a run-scoring fielder's choice to bring home the second run against Nova, who struck out five, marking his third consecutive start without a victory. Clay Rapada induced a double-play grounder in the sixth to help Nova escape further damage.
"I didn't really have my fastball command today," Nova said. "I fell behind the hitters the whole game. Six walks; it wasn't a good day for me. We got the win, and I'm happy for that."
There is a possibility that Wednesday's contest will be remembered as Ichiro's final game at Safeco Field; to that point, Ichiro slyly offered, "This year." But the Seattle icon acknowledged that the three contests playing against the Mariners had been difficult for him.
"I was here 11 1/2 years," Ichiro said. "I didn't really show it, but inside, I was really going through some emotional times. It was very special these last few days, but definitely emotional inside."
Ichiro was acknowledged warmly by the crowd before his first at-bat. A message reading "Ichiro: Thanks for the thrills" was broadcast on the center-field scoreboard, and as he did on Monday following his trade to the Yankees, Ichiro doffed his batting helmet and bowed.
After Nix's big hit, Ichiro liked the finish better than some others he'd seen from the first-base dugout. Ichiro briefly turned to acknowledge the cheering fans behind the right-field wall before dashing to center field, ready to embrace his new beginning.
"Being on the opposing side late in the game, I saw it many times, that pressure that they put on," Ichiro said. "I was able to see it on this team this time."