Wednesday, October 05, 2011

And the Young Shall Lead You - Ivan Nova for Game Five

Yesterday in this spot, the Yankees' season was on the brink and they sent out A.J. Burnett to keep the season alive. Miraculously, they lived to tell about it. Now the Tigers and Yankees face a Game Five for all the marbles and the right to play the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series. Both teams will not have their aces on the mound and will both go with their Number Two starters. Doug Fister will start for the Tigers after a sensational second half coming over from the Seattle Mariners. And Ivan Nova gets the ball for the Yankees. 

The way this writer sees it, everything is now in the Yankees' favor. They have already beaten Doug Fister once. They play the finale at home where they are dominant. And Ivan Nova pitched brilliantly against the Tigers once already this series. But that's why you play the games. The Tigers are a great team with a very good manager and terrific hitters in the middle of the line up. They play well fundamentally (well, they do bunt too often to decidedly mixed results). So this is no walkover for the Yankees.

There is some precedent for the Yankees in starting such a young pitcher in such a crucial game. In the 1964 World Series against the Cardinals, a 24 year old Jim Bouton and 22 year old Mel Stottlemyre started five of the seven games of that series. Jim Bouton won the two games he started. Mel Stottlemyre, surprisingly started three games that series, all against Bob Gibson. In the first two starts, Stottlemyre and Gibson played to a draw and each pitcher won a game. But Game Seven was what put Gibson in the stratosphere of the great pitchers of all time as he pitched his team to the championship. Stottlemyre finally cracked in that last game and was pulled in the fifth inning. Andy Pettitte was 24 when thrust into his first series of big games for the Yankees in the 1996 post season.

Ivan Nova is a surprisingly good comp to the young Mel Stottlemyre. Both depended on ground balls and quick outs. Both limited opposing homers and both seem virtually unflappable at such a young age. Neither struck out many batters in their early years and depended on weak contact and their fielders' ability to catch and throw the ball.

There have been so many fun storylines to this series. The Yankees quandary concerning Miguel Cabrera is one of the best of those stories. The man is just flat out scary to face. A second is the unbelievable fielding of Curtis Granderson who has made some of the most amazing plays in the field since Graig Nettles. His heroics in the field is ultimately ironic considering that it is his fielding that will more than anything else cost him a chance to be the MVP this season.

The third base situation for the Tigers is another story. Jim Leyland made a huge mistake in starting Wilson Betemit in Game Four. Leyland likes Betemit's bat better than Brandon Inge's. But Inge is three for six in this series and Betemit is zero for eight. Plus, several of the Yankee rallies in Game Four included balls to the hole that Betemit couldn't get to that Inge probably would have handled. Betemit failed in a couple of key at bats as well. 

Another storyline of this series and will again be a factor in the finale is the difference in the team's two bullpens. The Tigers have two studs at the end in Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. There is no doubts about that. But getting to them is a huge problem as Al Alburquerque has been a deer in the headlights and Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth don't scare anybody. If the Yankees get the lead in the final game, they can go lights out from the sixth inning on with a heady brew of Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and ultimately, Mariano Rivera. The Yankees have stated that C.C. Sabathia is available, but that would be a mistake to consider since if the Yankees do win, he's your opening day starter against the Rangers.

Another potential storyline is who the Yankees will employ as a DH in Game Five. Jesus Montero has been unbelievable since his call up and went two for his first two ever post season plate appearances. Joe Girardi could be seen talking to Jorge Posada in the Yankees' dugout late in the game yesterday. Was Girardi preparing Jorge for the possibility he wouldn't start Game Five? 

The Tigers can certainly win the final game. Doug Fister could throw the game of his life. The Tigers offense could tee off on the young Ivan Nova. But that all would be a huge upset. But again, that's why you play the game and that's what makes baseball the greatest sport on earth. 

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