It's All or Nothing Time for the Yankees

An improbable pitching matchup takes center stage in Game Five

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Oct 13, 2011  |  Updated 11:48 AM EDT
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It's All or Nothing Time for the Yanks

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Can the rookie get it done one more time?

Back in July, you could have found some pretty good odds if you had gone to the closest bookmaker and asked to place a wager on Doug Fister and Ivan Nova starting the deciding game of the ALDS.

Fister was pitching well, but he was doing it for a Mariners team that rarely provided him with enough runs to win. Nova was in Triple-A after losing his rotation spot to Phil Hughes and there wasn't a soul alive that didn't expect the Yankees to make a deal for another starter.

Yet we find ourselves hours away from Game Five and those are the two men who will lock horns for a chance to extend their improbable seasons a little bit longer. Given the fact that the Yankees have had to put their two most important games in the hands of A.J. Burnett and Nova, improbability is a pretty good theme for this whole series.

Figuring out which of these two pitchers has an edge is not an easy task. 

Nova has been on a remarkable run since returning from Scranton, one that he continued in his Game One "start" when he shut the Tigers out for six innings before faltering in the ninth. He's still a rookie, though, and the Tigers have now seen what he can do which may mean better at-bats this time around.

Fister did well his first time through the lineup, but as they've done so many times before, the Yankees figured out a way to get to him as the game moved into the later innings. That should give them an edge on Thursday night, but Fister can execute better or come up with a different plan of attack to trip them up.

History tells us that this game isn't likely to be decided solely by the starting pitchers, however. The bullpen is going to factor in the outcome and it will likely factor heavily.

That's where the Yankees seem to have a big edge. They have Mariano Rivera, obviously, but also a well-rested David Robertson and everyone else on the roster to pick up outs to get the ball to Rivera.

The Tigers pen has been a real sore spot for them in the series. Al Aburquerque has failed twice in big spots, Jose Valverde has two shaky saves and Jim Leyland has done everything short of breaking Justin Verlander's arm to make sure everyone knows that his ace won't be making a relief appearance.

There's more to this than just the pitchers, of course. The Yankee bats seemed to show some life in Game Four, but there are still too many struggling guys in the middle of the order to feel secure about everything going their way.

Things haven't gone much better for the Tigers, but we saw in Game Two that Miguel Cabrera is capable of winning a game all by himself. There's also the fact that these win-or-go-home games usually produce a star or two that nobody saw coming. 

So the best advice is to just strap in and enjoy the ride. After all, it might just be the last one for a good long time.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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