Nova Should Shine Brightly On Game 5 Stage

ALDS – GAME 5 PREVIEW

I don’t pretend to know everything about baseball but when it comes down to a crucial Game 5, I would much rather have a pitcher going who has not lost a game since June 3.

That is what the New York Yankees having going for them in their showdown with the Detroit Tigers at Yankees Stadium on Thursday night.

Ivan Nova, 24, was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA this season and he also won Game 1 of this series 9-3 with 6 1/3 innings of solid relief of CC Sabathia. His last loss came against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, CA on June 3. His last loss at Yankee Stadium came on May 12 to the Kansas City Royals.

Another thing in Nova’s favor is that he comes into the game without showing any sign of nerves. Nova also showed the Yankees something last season in his first major-league start last August.

In a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Nova surrendered a home run to Jose Bautista in the first inning. When Bautista came up for his second at-bat, Nova decked him with a fastball up and in. Bautista took exception and Nova challenged him to come out to the mound to do something about it.

The Yankees knew then they had a pitcher who was relaxed on the big stage and who also had a competitive nature.

Nova was very disappointed when the Yankees decided to send him to the minors when Phil Hughes returned from the disabled list in July. Nova, after all, was 8-4 with a 4.12 ERA. But the Yankees rotation was full of productive veterans like Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett. Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild just told him to go down to Triple-A, work his slider and force the Yankees to keep him on the roster when he returned.

Nova did all that and then some.

He returned to the Yankees on July 30 and won the second game of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium and he did not lose in any of his last 10 starts. He was 8-0 with a 3.30 ERA.

The numbers merely reflected what Girardi and Rothschild could see: Nova was a far better pitcher then he was before. The biggest difference was his slider. Instead of just spinning up to the plate it was dropping sharply. Hitters were getting fooled and Nova finally had a pitch that could keep hitters off his 94-mile-per-hour fastball.

Here is a couple more facts that might sober Tiger fans. Nova, according to Girardi, did not have his best stuff on Saturday when he shut out the Tigers for 6 1/3 innings. (Luis Ayala allowed two of Nova’s runners to score after Nova was removed.) Nova has had an uncanny knack of being able to adjust when he does not have a his best stuff. That is very unusual for a rookie.

In addition, Nova over the span of his brief career had never surrendered a lead he has been given as a starter. How many pitchers can make that claim?

The Tigers, meanwhile, are touting 27-year-old Doug Fister, Nova’s mound opponent.

Fister was 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA with the Seattle Mariners when he was acquired at the trade deadline by the Tigers. In the Motor City he has racked up an impressive 8-1 record with a 1.97 ERA, easily one of the best trades made this season.

However, before Fister went on that 8-1 streak, his last start was against the Yankees on July 26 in Yankee Stadium and he lost that game. His next appearance in the Bronx was on Saturday in relief of Justin Verlander in Game 1. He lost that game also.

The most telling part of that start on Saturday was Fister’s meltdown the third time through the batting order.

The first nine batters Fister faced were 2-for-9 (.222) with four strikeouts. The next nine batters were 3-for-9 (.333) and scored a run. Fister then faced only six more batters and four of them reached and the Yankees scored two more runs. He was removed from the game, Al Alburquerque came in to pitch to Robinson Cano with the bases loaded and we all know what happened after that.

Another point: Much has been made of the fact that the Yankees have not hit well in the series. I am not understanding what series those pundits are watching. The Yankees have outscored the Tigers 26-14 in the series. They are hitting .272 as a team. The Tigers are hitting .188.

The Tigers won two games in this series because Verlander and Scherzer pitched well and the Tigers held on to hold off late Yankee rallies. They will need a similar effort from Fister tonight. However, even if Fister does pitch better than he did on Saturday, the Tigers are going to have to wake up their bats against Nova.

I am not sure that is going to happen.

Another point lost on Tuesday night amid the parade of seven hits the Yankees collected in the eighth inning against the Tigers were that two of them came from Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was hitless in his first 12 at-bats with three walks and a sacrifice fly to deep center on Tuesday just before he put up those two hits.

If the Yankees were hitting well and scoring runs without Rodriguez contributing much, how will they do if he finds his power stroke tonight?

If Fister thinks he can feast off the bottom of the Yankees’ batting order to get outs, he better think again. No. 9 hitter Brett Gardner is 5-for-13 (.385) with five RBIs. In contrast, Tiger MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera is hitting .250 with a home run and three RBIs. However, all of those hits and RBIs came in Game 2. He has been held hitless in the other three contests.

The Yankee crowd also will play a big part, too. There will likely be a record crowd on hand tonight and their noise and energy will very much impact the game. Yankees fans are so smart they know when not to interfere with a ball in play as they did in Game 1 on Robinson Cano’s double. They also can impact an umpire and how a game is called.

There is a reason the Yankees fought through a 162-game schedule and it was to get home-field advantage. This is it.

The Bronx will be rocking and loud tonight and I love the Yankees’ chances to advance to the American League Championship Series. They seem to have the Tiger by the tail.

 

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