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At Least Ivan Nova Isn't Jaret Wright

October 6, 2011 - John Whittaker
A.J. Burnett did his job Tuesday. Now, it's his teammates turn tonight.

So, after four games and roughly 187 expletives starting with the letter 'F' hurled toward Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Rafael Soriano and Joe Girardi, the Yankees 2011 season comes down to one game.

It's only fitting, given Brian Cashman's reluctance to trade a young starter for a veteran at the last few trading deadlines, that it would be Ivan Nova taking the hill Thursday for the Yankees. In February, the Minnesota Twins wanted Nova as part of a trade for Francisco Liriano. Now, Nova is the Yankees hottest pitcher and possibly its best given C.C. Sabathia's rough September and early October and the made for Disney return of A.J. Burnett.

Unlike previous win or go home games, I'm pretty comfortable with who the Yankees are throwing out there after watching some pretty terrible pitching over the last 10 years in elimination games.

In 2003, down 2-1 to the Angels, the Yankees trotted out David Wells. Wells lasted a whopping 4.2 innings and gave up 8 earned runs in a loss. In the 2004 ALCS, it was the had to have been on steriods durnig his prime Kevin Brown taking the mound in Game 7 against the Red Sox. After getting four outs and giving up five earned runs, Brown hit the showers, his career pretty much over. The 2005 ALDS saw Mike Mussina get rocked for 5 runs in 2.2 innings. In 2006, Jaret Wright justified his large free agent contract by allowing three earned runs in 2.2 innings before Joe Torre mercifully pulled the plug. Of course, Cory Lidle wasn't much better in relief, and the Yankees lost to the Tigers.

All of these games followed a similar pattern. Yankees take field, pitcher gets shelled, Whitless Wonder changes the channel.

Seriously, look at that list again and then ask me why I'm comfortable with Nova on the hill tonight. Couple that with the fact that, as good as Doug Pfister has been this year, he's not Justin Verlander, who is the most unhittable pitcher this side of mid 1960s Sandy Koufax, 1984 Dwight Gooden or any year's version of Nolan Ryan. If you're in an elimination game, you do not to face Verlander. Pfister, who tops out in the low 90s, is a decent pitcher who is more than capable of making a mistake.

Nova, meanwhile, has a little better stuff — mid 90s fastball, decent change, a good curveball and that slider he learned during his July demotion to AAA. What I like is that he has an easy fastball. He doesn't have to try hard to throw hard — and that type of guy tends to be alright in the playoffs. As long as he keeps his emotions in check like he did in Game 1, he'll be fine.

I have one more helpful tidbit for Nova tonight. Do not, under any circumstances, throw Miguel Cabrera a strike. I'd even be careful with Magglio Ordonez. Cabrera, though, is entering Albert Pujols country. Pitch him carefully. In a Game 5, Cabrera can not be the Tiger taking critical swings. Make Victor Martinez and the rest of the Tigers beat you.

The real problem for the Yankees is offense. Mark Teixeira has to show me something soon. The only thing rivaling his 2009-2011 postseason stench are whatever it is I've smelled from my collective nephews' diapers. His production in the regular season is great, but sometimes, in the postseason, you have to stop trying to hit everything over the fence and take what the defense is giving you. Now, just to make sure I'm speaking plainly enough for Mark to understand me — use the whole field, stop swinging from your heels and shorten your swing so that maybe you can hit a mediocre fastball. Got it?

Alex Rodriguez had some better swings in Game 4. I still wonder how healthy he really is, because I thought he got over this postseason stuff in 2009. I just don't see that guy, the 2009 A-Rod who was driving the ball over the fence in big spots, at the plate right now. Hopefully it's health-related and not related to the absence of male genitalia. Without those two hitters generating offense, the Yankees will be in for a tough time tonight. Robinson Cano is getting little to no protection, meaning the Tigers don't have to throw him strikes and giving Robinson an excuse to revert back to the free-swinging hitter we saw two or three years ago. Rodriguez and Teixeira struggling also means more pressure on Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada to pick up the slack. So far, Posada and especially Brett Gardner have been up to the task, but that's a little above their pay grade.

Good baseball starts with pitching — and thank God tonight isn't 2004 through 2008. My hair's gray enough.


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