Nova (1-0) vs. Fister (0-1)
Jeter (SS), C-Grand (CF), Cano (2B), The Horse (3B), Teck-SHARE-uh (1B), Swish (RF), Jorge (DH), Martin (C), Gardner (LF)
Jackson (CF), Kelly (3B), Young (LF), Cabrera (1B), Martinez (DH), Ordonez (RF), Avila (C), Peralta (SS), Santiago (2B)
3 Things to Watch For:
1) Starter Adjustments/Who Can Finish
It's the 2nd time around against the same team in less than a week for the 2 starting pitchers tonight, and you know both clubs have been reviewing video of their at-bats against them in Game 1. It will be equally important for SuperNova and Fister to not fall into a similar routine to what they did last Saturday. They need to change their approaches, continue to mix pitches, and not get predictable with their offerings based on count. Whoever can do that better will have the better outing. Building off of that theme, the pitcher who can finish off hitters and finish off innings better will also give his team a better chance to win. Nova excelled at working out of his jams in Game 1, and generally put guys away when he had them down. Fister's inability to do that in the 5th and 6th innings of Game 1 was his undoing.
2) The Horse At The Plate
As I touched on yesterday,
The Horse finally started to look like himself at the plate in Game 4, which bodes well for his chances against a pitcher who doesn't have dynamite stuff like Fister tonight. Word around the Yankee clubhouse this morning was that A-Rod looked good in his pregame canter around the field. He was energetic and lively, and he even ate ALL his oats and carrots at lunch time. He's just finishing up getting brushed right now before taking some BP. If he looks as smooth and balanced tonight as he did in the 8th inning on Tuesday, we could be in store for some 2009 A-Rod flashbacks.
3) Reliever "Freshness"
Another point I made after Game 4 was my concern that Joe not using D-Rob and Mo in Game 4 could lead them to be a little rusty tonight. Granted, I'll still take a rusty D-Rob or Mo over anybody else in the Yankee 'pen 25 hours a day, 8 days a week, but they are the types of pitchers who struggle specifically when they haven't pitched in a while. D-Rob has the tendency to lose his command, and Mo tends to not locate the cutter as well. It's obvious they are both going to be available for 6 outs apiece if needed tonight thanks to the rest, but even that could prove to be a potential pothole if they're forced to go from next to no work to 30-40 pitches. Hopefully Nova can put up a repeat 6-inning performance from Game 1 and take this discussion off the table, but I'll be paying extra close attention to how D-Rob and Mo's stuff looks when they get in the game.
Player to Watch: Ivan Nova
Even though he technically was a reliever in Game 1, Nova turned in the best starting performance from a Yankee pitcher in this series. He was cool, calm, confident, and he attacked the Tiger lineup with his full arsenal. Game 1 was the biggest game of his career up to that point and he passed that test with flying colors. How will he respond coming back in a do-or-die Game 5 setting? I've always liked the way Nova handles himself on the mound and I expect him to be solid tonight. If he's on early, he can help set the tone for this game and get the Yankee crowd in it. And if he puts up a repeat performance of Game 1, he could be looking at an ALDS MVP (even though that award doesn't really exist).
I love Game 5s and I hate Game 5s. Every pitch means a little more, every crack of the bat is a little more exciting, and every ball in play carries that extra little bit of tension. I feel confident coming into tonight and I think the Yankees do as well. They're back at home, where some of the deep fly balls from Comerica will end up in the stands if they put similar swings on hittable pitches tonight. They've got a damn good pitcher on the hill, a fully stocked bullpen on standby, and a packed house of rabid fans cheering them on. You can't ask for much more than that if you're a professional baseball player in this situation.
This isn't a song, and it's from a football movie, but a lot of the lessons still apply. Baseball is definitely a game of inches. And if you don't get goosebumps listening to this speech then you're not human.