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Unlikely starter hopes to finish it for Yankees

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 6, 2011

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NEW YORK - Ivan Nova, despite his youth, despite his inexperience, despite the pressure, is believable in his confidence. He says he’s not nervous for his start tonight in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, with the Yankees’ season on him in a win-or-go-home scenario, and it all sounds right.

“I don’t see the reason to feel pressure,’’ Nova said yesterday at Yankee Stadium. “It’s another game. Of course it’s the most important games of the season now, but that’s the game that right now a lot of people [are] waiting for. Everybody wants to see that game.

“If you get nervous, you’re going to be in trouble because you can’t control yourself. You can’t control what you got to do.’’

In the deciding game against the Detroit Tigers , New York’s chances for moving into the next round will be up to him. The Yankees have won one elimination game in this series already, prevailing, 10-1, Tuesday night in Detroit, and they’ll look to Nova to see if it can happen twice.

“I love this kid’s determination,’’ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “His determination to get better. His determination to be a part of this staff. To never go down [to the minors] again. To win.

“That’s what I see from him - he’s a very hard worker. And it’s paid off.’’

Nova began the season an unproven rookie on a pitching staff that had significant question marks. He won 16 games and became a reliable No. 2 starter.

But he’s not the only one in the matchup who couldn’t have been expected to be involved when the season started.

Doug Fister was a member of the Seattle Mariners then, months away from the trade deadline deal that would send him to Detroit, where he turned a 3-12 season around by going 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA with the Tigers.

And even at the start of this series, Nova-Fister wasn’t exactly the matchup Detroit manager Jim Leyland had planned for Game 5.

Had there not been a rain-suspended Game 1, it could have been Justin Verlander starting Game 5 for the Tigers. But at this point, it doesn’t matter. As Leyland said, “I don’t think it’s disappointing at all.’’

All that matters is that the team that wins moves on, and the team that loses is done.

“This is what we fought so hard for during the course of the season,’’ Girardi said of having home field. “You have two very good teams playing. Unfortunately, one of us is going to go home. And that’s the hard part about this game, because your season is going to end so abruptly, in a sense.

“But we’ve worked hard to get to this point. We feel good about our starter. They probably feel good about their starter. And time is going to tell.’’

Some of Girardi’s confidence comes because of what Nova has become this season, with the development of his slider and his poise, and his performance when he took over for CC Sabathia in the restarted Game 1. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits, getting the win.

Fister didn’t fare nearly so well, taking the loss in Game 1 after allowing six runs on seven hits in his 4 2/3 innings.

“Obviously I didn’t execute a few things,’’ Fister said. “A good lineup makes you pay for it. That’s what they did the other night. It’s going to be a new fight [tonight].

“Stay with what you do best, and don’t try to waver from it. Trust what you do and your teammates around you.’’

The Tigers trust in themselves. The Yankees trust in themselves.

“You feel good about your opportunity,’’ Girardi said. “I felt good about [Tuesday] night’s game. Because I know these guys. I know their hearts. I know how hard they play, I know how hard they work, and their ability to get things done and resiliency.

“But we have to go out and play. That’s the bottom line.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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