From Scranton to Game 1 savior
Just a few months ago, Ivan Nova was the odd-man out in the Yankees rotation
In Game 1, Nova held the Tigers scoreless for six innings before fading in the 9th
Nova's strong outing means the Yankees' key relievers will be rested and ready
At midseason, when Ivan Nova was spending a couple of weeks down at Scranton as the odd man out in the crowded collection of hand-me-downs better known as the Yankees rotation, it didn't seem unreasonable to suggest he might come out of the bullpen in Game 1 of the division series.
Just not like this.
Picking up in the third inning of a suspended game -- the first postseason suspension to be governed by new rules regarding rainouts in the playoffs -- Nova threw 6 1/3 innings, allowed just two runs and kept the game close until the Yankees offense could break through against Doug Fister.
Nova got a lot of help, with Derek Jeter gunning down Alex Avila at the plate to short-circuit a rally in the fifth, to a would-be single to center that became a 4-3 double play in the sixth because Robinson Cano was covering on a steal attempt. Typical of Nova this year (he allowed a .267 batting average and .766 OPS with the bases empty; those figures were .215 and .572 with runners in scoring position), he bent but didn't break, allowing four hits and four walks, but no runs until Luis Ayala allowed some inherited runners to score after the game was long decided.
VERDUCCI: Cano plays leading role for Yankees
Nova went from Scranton in July to the Yankees' No. 2 starter -- he was originally scheduled to start Game 2 of this series -- by mastering the strike zone. The first was showing greater control. Before his demotion, Nova walked 36 men unintentionally, about 8.9 percent of the ones he faced, with a 51/36 K/BB. Since his return, he walked just 18 of 296 men, 6 percent, a significant drop, while improving his K/BB to 47/18. After being sent down, Nova returned with a more effective slider, completing the classic four-pitch arsenal. He threw the slider 16 times in 101 pitches last night, walking away from it almost completely after the Yankees gave him a big lead.
Oh, that big lead. Well, the Yankees almost needed just one pitcher last night, and they almost needed just one hitter, too. In the fifth, Cano, taking well to the third spot in the lineup, hit a two-out double off the top of the left-field wall to drive in Curtis Granderson and give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, Cano destroyed a slider by Al Alburquerque for a grand slam that made it 8-1. In the eighth, Cano reminded the remaining crowd he's become a very good hitter against lefties, pounding an RBI double -- with some help from Austin Jackson's poor read -- off lefty sidearmer Daniel Schlereth for the Yankees' final tally.
Winning the 27-hour game to go up 1-0 in the best-of-five series was important, but how the Yankees won was almost as much so. By getting Nova into the ninth and using just two relievers for a handful of pitches, the Yankees are set up to continue this stretch of as many as four playoff games in four days. While using Mariano Rivera was unfortunate (and to be honest, a little bit panicky by manager Joe Girardi), the other core Yankees relievers are all well rested. Neither Rafael Soriano nor David Robertson has pitched since Tuesday. Using them in three straight games, if necessary, shouldn't be a bother. Girardi probably wouldn't use Rivera the next three days, but then again, if he needs Rivera Sunday and Monday, there may not be a Tuesday to worry about.
The Tigers, in part because Al Albuquerque put the game out reach by serving up a grand slam to Cano, also avoided using their top relievers. Jim Leyland will have a full slate of options available Sunday afternoon. With both managers using their third starters Sunday and bringing back their horses for Game 3 on Monday, we could see a very long game with a lot of pitching changes as both Girardi and Tigers manager Jim Leyland look play matchups in advance of what they likely expect to be deep outings from their aces.
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