Fister, Nova learning the postseason ropes

Fister, Nova learning the postseason ropes

NEW YORK -- Perhaps the Tigers' sharpest self-criticism this postseason came following the American League Division Series' Game 1, when first baseman Miguel Cabrera called out his teammates for chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone. Rather than knock around Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova, the Tigers played right to the rookie's strengths. And Cabrera was not pleased.

Correcting that issue may be the most significant key for the Tigers heading into Thursday's decisive Game 5, with a trip to the ALCS on the line.

"Anytime you see a pitcher for the first time, you're really not sure," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I think we really got out of the strike zone a little more in this series than I had hoped we would. Hopefully, now that we've seen [Nova], we'll have a little better idea the second time around. I think that usually holds true. So, we'll see how that plays out."

But, as Leyland noted, Nova is a proven pitcher capable of making adjustments on the fly. One tweak from the Tigers may not be enough to hit Nova any harder than they did in Game 1. All the Tigers can do is hope they learned something against a pitcher who, on paper, seems at times both beatable and strong.

"They were real aggressive," Nova said. "They hadn't seen me before. It was different. I'm waiting to see tomorrow how they come."

The same could be said for the Yankees against Tigers starter Doug Fister, who pitched better than his final line -- six runs in 4 2/3 innings -- might suggest. It was not until Fister left Saturday's game that three of those runs scored, on Robinson Cano's two-out grand slam against reliever Al Alburquerque.

"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."

If nothing else, the takeaway from Game 1 is that both of these pitchers, under the right circumstances, are susceptible to being hit -- such is the nature of proceeding with No. 2 starters. Because rain sullied the ALDS schedule last weekend, a much-anticipated rematch of aces CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander will not happen in Game 5. That leaves Nova and Fister, two underrated starters coming off tremendous seasons.

They have both been good pitchers all year long. At times, they have been great pitchers. But neither man is an ace.

Consider, for example, that Nova can be prone to lapses in command, walking four batters over six innings.

Consider that the Yankees apparently see the ball well off Fister, rapping out seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Consider that the Yankees do not consider Nova a rookie -- nor should they, given his successes.

Consider that Fister's 0.65 ERA over his final eight regular season games may have been the product of regularly facing the league's weakest offenses.

Consider that neither pitcher seems intimidated by October.

"You have to be confident in yourself," Nova said.

"It's going to be a good dogfight," Fister said.

Most of all, consider that in a postseason game, anything can happen. In a decisive Game 5, that holds even truer.

As Leyland noted Wednesday afternoon, attempting to predict Thursday's game would be an exercise in futility. One pitch, one bounce, one call or one play could change the entire complexion of the series -- all in one moment. Fister may wake up Thursday morning with his best stuff at his disposal, or his worst. Same goes for Nova.

Every player on both teams, Fister and Nova included, understands how much is at stake. They understand that, for the most part, they can throw everything they learned last weekend out the window.

This is Game 5, they know, and nothing will be the same.

"It's one game," Leyland said. "I don't know what's going to happen. Somebody can get a good bounce or a bad bounce. Somebody can hit a dramatic home run. Somebody can make an error. I can't predict that."

"The bottom line is you have to go out and make your pitches," Yankees manager Girardi said. "If you make your pitches, we're going to have a shot."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.