Commentary

Game 5 is Yankees' for the taking

Nova and Grandy are in; Mo and CC are available; Verlander a non-factor Thursday

Updated: October 7, 2011, 8:26 AM ET
By Rob Parker | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Nothing's perfect.

But the scenario for the New York Yankees -- in the fifth and deciding game of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium -- is as close as you can get to it.

In a winner-take-all game to advance to the AL Championship Series against the Texas Rangers, the Yankees have everything in place to win and get a rematch from last postseason:

• Their rookie pitching sensation, Ivan Nova, starts for them. He beat the Tigers in impressive fashion in Game 1.

[+] EnlargeIvan Nova and Mariano Rivera
Debby Wong/US PresswireWith Ivan Nova starting and Mariano Rivera available to close, the Yankees have the ALCS in their sights.

• The Yankees' bullpen is locked and loaded. Best of all, Mariano Rivera would be able to pitch two innings. To this point, he has thrown three pitches and doesn't even have a save in the series. Even CC Sabathia would be available, if needed.

• The Yankees have been playing defense like it's going out of style. Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez have been playing at an ESPN Top 10 Plays caliber.

• The Yankees finally started hitting in their Game 4 win at Detroit. They scored 10 runs on 13 hits. The Tigers will start Doug Fister, whom the Yankees beat up on in Game 1, scoring six earned runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

• Soon-to-be AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander isn't starting Game 5, which was the original plan before rain suspended Game 1. Better yet, Verlander, who won Game 3 in Motown, isn't available to pitch at all in Game 5.

• Last but not least, the Yankees -- who tied for the second-best home record in baseball during the regular season -- will be playing in front of their home crowd. Enter loud. Enter advantage.

For sure, the Yankees still have to come out and play. There are no layups in the postseason. The Tigers, who won Game 2 here, didn't come all this way to get knocked out of the playoffs without a fight.

"You can ask both sides -- you feel good about your opportunity," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday afternoon. "I know these guys. I know their hearts, I know how hard they play, know how hard they work and their ability to get things done and their resiliency. But we have to go out and play. That's the bottom line."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland knows when the deck is stacked. Leyland, who won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997, knows his team might have squandered its chance to eliminate the Yankees for the second time since 2006.

The Tigers didn't take advantage of having all their ducks in a row. They had A.J. Burnett, a mostly disappointing pitcher this season, on the mound in their place with a chance to close out the series. Instead, they got a Detroit beatdown in Comerica Park.

"We'll respond," Leyland said. "Like we always do.

"We got a big game with the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. It's a great scenario. It's great for baseball. It turned out to be a five-game series. I wish I could tell you what's going to happen, but I don't know. But we feel good. I'm sure they feel good."

Especially with Nova on the mound. The Yankees' 19-8 mark this season in games started by Nova was the second best for any AL team in starts by one pitcher (minimum 20 games started). The Tigers were 25-9 in games started by Verlander.

"I got the most important game of my life," Nova, 24, said of Game 5. "[Thursday] is the time to do what I've been doing the whole year.

"[Thursday] is the time to step up for the team, because that's the game that we'll need to keep us in the playoffs or we go home."

The Yankees fully expect to win. Anything less, and the perfect storm will have been wasted.

"We're all going to be disappointed if we don't win," Girardi said. "This team has played all year long, and I'm proud of what they've done to this point.

"We all understand what the goal is here, and that's no secret. I would say for any team ... if you don't win the World Series, it's disappointing."

On Thursday, it's all set up for the Yankees to take the next step toward another shot at a World Series title. They just have to play.

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