Keys To Tigers-Yankees, Game 5

Pitching.

Ivan Nova and Doug Fister are essentially the same guy.

Neither strikes out a lot of hitters; neither allows many homers; they rely on a pitch-to-contact strategy and need their defense.

In tonight’s game, both will have to keep the ball away from the batters and coax them to try and pull pitches they should be taking to the opposite field; and they need to keep the ball down.

Nova has shown a fearlessness of intense situations and actually appears to relish it—something the Yankees discounted in assessing him. I’d prefer to have someone with average-to-above average stuff and an attitude than brilliant stuff and reluctance to pitch in a do-or-die game.

Fister’s numbers are consistent vs righties and lefties—link.

The pitcher who makes the mistake up in the strike zone to the wrong hitter is the one who’s going to fall.

Controlling the hitters.

Everyone’s going to be concerned about one specific hitter in the Yankees or Tigers lineup.

For the Yankees, it’s going to be Robinson Cano;  Cano hammers pitchers like Fister because he likes the ball down; the one bat I’d be concerned with more than Cano is Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was just missing pitches that were in his wheelhouse in game 4 and the Tigers have made the decision to not only challenge him, but to prefer pitching to him rather than the alternatives.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees were expected to have to stop.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees do have to stop.

The Tigers want to get Cabrera up to the plate with runners on base and he lives for games like this. If he’s overanxious and tries to do too much, he’s going to either strike out or hit into a double play; if not, he’s got the capability to wreck the game early.

The defense.

Don Kelly is playing third base instead of Brandon Inge and Wilson Betemit because Kelly’s been hitting. Inge is a good defensive third baseman and Kelly is average. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has limited range; if Fister is successful in keeping the ball away from Cano and mitigating his power, the left side of the infield has to catch it when it’s hit.

Curtis Granderson saved A.J. Burnett in the midst of his transformation from “we don’t know which A.J.” into “bad, chase him out of town A.J” with that over the shoulder catch of Kelly’s rocket with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the first inning of game 4. Yankee Stadium is an easier venue in which to hit a home run than Comerica Park, leaving less room to make these game/season-saving catches.

Defensively, Cabrera has a tendency to fall asleep while playing first base and do something airheaded.

Managers.

Who’s going to be the first reliever into the game if either gets into trouble?

There’s no messing around here and if Phil Hughes or Brad Penny are needed in the second inning, things could go downhill fast; if either starter gets off to a poor start, the next reliever’s main job is to stabilize the game and keep it from getting out of hand. I don’t trust either Hughes or Penny to do that.

Of the two managers, the one more likely to do something stupid and panicky is Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Tigers manager Jim Leyland trusts his players—to his detriment at times—and plays hunches, but his mistakes aren’t due to a freakout.

The looming hero.

Justin Verlander threw 120 pitches 3 days ago, but could he come in and provide a few innings if needed? If he shunned throwing on the side after his start, it’s possible that he saved his bullets in case he’s needed tonight.

Would Tigers manager Leyland do that? Would he risk Verlander to use him in relief?

Pedro Martinez left game 1 of the 1999 ALDS against the Indians after 4 innings with back problems; he was questionable for the rest of the series. In game 5, with the score 8-8 after 3 innings, Martinez told manager Jimy Williams he’d go for as long as he could when he ambled in from the bullpen.

He went as long as he could alright…by pitching 6 no-hit innings with 8 strikeouts to lead the Red Sox to the ALCS.

Verlander will be willing.

He’ll be able.

But will he be allowed?

And would it be the difference between winning and losing?

It might.

Leyland, in general, tells his players to take a hike when he’s made a decision; but occasionally as he did in the 1997 NLCS with Kevin Brown, he will listen when they stand in front of him and demand to be left in the game.

Verlander’s that type of competitor.

Would Leyland listen if Verlander told him he was ready to pitch in relief?

The initial response would be no, but…it’s game 5; this is Verlander’s year similar to that of Orel Hershiser in 1988.

What better way to prove it than to emerge from the bullpen and save the whole team?

It’s unlikely, but possible.

Because it’s game 5.

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