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Friday, September 30, 2011
All eyes on Nova when Game 1 resumes

By Rob Parker
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- You knew Ivan Nova was going to be an important part of the New York Yankees' success in the postseason.

You knew it when manager Joe Girardi named Nova, the rookie right-hander, the Game 2 starter in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.

But few could have imagined he would be this big. Because of the suspension of Game 1 due to rain -- washing away a pair of aces in CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander at Yankee Stadium on Friday night -- Nova is now asked to pitch basically the first game of the series.

For sure, the pressure cooker has been turned up. The stage just expanded to double-wide and the lights went from 75 to 100 watts.

Ivan Nova
The pressure will be on Ivan Nova in Game 2, er, Game 1.

Game 1 is the tone setter. It doesn't always decide a series, but can leave a team feeling confident or back on its heels.

That job is best suited for an ace, an experienced pitcher who can handle such a starring role, not a rookie pitcher who was supposed to be the fifth starter coming into the season.

The Yankees, though, are confident Nova, 24, will be up to the task. "He's been tremendous for his last, how many starts since he came back?" catcher Russell Martin said. "He's figured it out.

"He goes out there, he competes, his composure's been incredible, so hopefully he goes out there and throws a gem."

The only wrinkle is that when Nova takes the mound, it will be the top of the third inning. The game resumes in the bottom of the second inning with the score tied at 1-1 and the Yankees batting. Nova doesn't expect any problems in coming into a game that technically has already started. He will go through the same routine as a start and have the same amount of time to warm up and get ready.

"I think it's the same," said Nova, who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in the regular season. "I don't see a difference. You have to put it in your mind that it's 0-0 and you're starting the game. It's really 1-1, but a new game."

The old game that was suspended was looking good for the Yankees. Sabathia was dealing, had his good stuff. Four of the six outs Sabathia recorded were strikeouts.

Hence, a lot is at stake in Game 1, including holding home-field advantage, and giving the Yankees the start they are looking for against the potent Tigers, who won 95 regular-season games.

You just can't discount the importance of such a game in the hands of a rookie. And in games like these, this time on the calendar, it's seldom about stuff and ability. It's about emotion, nerves and your constitution.

Girardi believes in Nova's ability to handle an even bigger situation. "I don't think there's any more pressure pitching this game or any other game," Girardi said.

Coming into Game 1, many thought it was important that Sabathia help the Yankees win. By doing so, it would take some of the pressure off Nova. A loss and Nova would have had to pitch well to save the Yankees' season. It would be almost impossible to come back from an 0-2 deficit after losing two home games.

"You can say if you're up 1-0, it might take a little off," Girardi said. "If you're down 1-0, you might put a little more on. Now, it's 0-0.

"The pressure comes from within for all these guys. They don't get to this spot if they don't feel wanting to do well inside."

Nova, who has the best record by a Yankees pitcher, minimum 20 decisions, since Roger Clemens in 2001, has the attention of the Tigers. Although Nova didn't face Detroit in the regular season this year, manager Jim Leyland raved about his stuff. "We know he's very good," Leyland said. "Very impressive. You know what, when you get to postseason, you expect to see a real good pitcher every night. I wish we were a little more familiar with him, but we're not. The tapes I've looked at he's very impressive. It's something our hitters will have to contend with."

Martin said if he has to go out to the mound and calm Nova down, he won't hesitate. "I'm sure he's gonna have some jitters in the beginning but after you throw a couple of pitches, it goes away," Martin said. "So I think he'll be fine."

Nova has to be.