And now he’s starting the biggest game of his life, Game 5 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium. It’s his second appearance of the series, after a pretty darn good performance in Game 1 when he went 6.1 innings after the suspension of play, allowing just 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out 5. And both of those runs scored after Nova left the game in Luis Ayala‘s hands in the 9th. With all hands on deck tonight, Nova probably won’t be asked to do that much, and he’ll probably be on a bit of a short leash once the middle innings role around. It feels weird to say, but A.J. Burnett is basically the benchmark for this start. If Nova can do more or less the same thing Burnett did in Game 4, we’ll be able to chalk the start up as a success and the Yankees will be in a very good spot.
But still, we’re talking about a rookie who kind of came out of nowhere to an extent this year, and now he’s pitching a deciding game at Yankee Stadium. I can’t imagine the sort of pressure that must put on a person, but then, Nova never seems to feel any pressure on the mound. Of course, his biggest advantage tonight will be that he isn’t alone. First and foremost, he has a tremendous offense supporting him on their home field, a field they were built to play in. Secondly, the Yankees are playing downright fantastic defense across the board right now, which should make life easier for Nova as long as he can avoid giving up the big fly.
And finally, there’s basically no limits on the bullpen now. Everyone is rested and, win or lose, there’s no tomorrow to play for, so Joe Girardi can empty the tank so to speak, and be as aggressive as he wants to be, particularly with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, both of whom have made only one appearance so far in the series. So nobody is asking Nova to go out there and shut down the Tigers for seven or eight innings tonight, which should make things at least a little bit easier on him. Five or six good innings will do just fine. Five or six good innings would be a Godsend.
The Tigers might be a little disappointed in the reality of tonight, as they had originally planned to have Justin Verlander pitching this game, only to see that go out the window as the rain delay pushed his start back to Game 5. So the Yankees have already gained a bit of an edge in the fact that they’re facing Doug Fister for the second time, not Verlander. But from their standpoint, this is what they always planned on, as their plan had been to have C.C. Sabathia start Game 4 on short rest. Not that they wanted the series to go the distance by any means, but if it did, they were always planning on starting Nova in the game. The Bombers have gotten themselves into a position where they’ve got an advantage, if ever so slight. They’re playing at home, they’ve got the pitcher they wanted to start taking the mound, and in an all hands on deck scenario, their bullpen is clearly superior to Detroit’s right now. All that’s left is to go out and play the game.
Here’s to tomorrows.