"Nobody can feel good about that," Nova said after the Yankees' 3-2 loss to the Tigers. "We came here to win."
The Yankees did not win, of course, dropping a decisive AL Division Series Game 5 in which Nova lasted merely two innings. Giving up two solo home runs in the top of the first, Nova returned to the mound for the second and delivered eight warmup throws, before pain bit into his forearm on his first pitch to Brandon Inge.
No one but Nova was aware of the issue, as he pitched around a leadoff double to hold the Tigers scoreless in the second. But upon returning to the dugout following the inning, Nova alerted manager Joe Girardi and his staff of the issue.
In an elimination game, Girardi took no chances, removing Nova in favor of Phil Hughes and a host of bullpen arms. At the time, it seemed as if Girardi may have simply been strategizing in a must-win game, removing Nova before the Tigers could do further damage against him. In reality, it turned out to be something more sinister.
"We didn't like the way the ball was coming out of his hand," Girardi said. "Some of his fastballs were cutting, and we never saw that, so I had to make a change."
As a result, the Yankees entrusted their most important game of the year to the bullpen. Hughes, who lasted 1 1/3 innings, gave way to Boone Logan at the first sign of trouble. Logan gave way to CC Sabathia for the first relief appearance of the left-hander's career. Sabathia gave way to Rafael Soriano. Soriano gave way to David Robertson. Robertson gave way to Mariano Rivera.
With the exception of Sabathia, who walked two batters and allowed Victor Martinez's RBI single, none of them gave up runs.
"I had to try to get our bullpen through it," Girardi said. "And they did a tremendous job."
"When you get to this point in the season, everyone's available," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "That's one of the things about the playoffs, especially when you're in a situation like you're in today."
Yet even in October, it was a situation that no one on the Yankees could have envisioned. Coming off a strong relief appearance in Game 1 of the ALDS, Nova was Girardi's clear choice for the Game 5 start. And given Nova's confidence and success throughout his rookie season, there was little reason to believe he would be anything but adequate.
Then came the injury, altering the course of his night and the season.
"It's hard when you've got to come out of the game so quickly," Nova said.
In the immediate aftermath of Thursday's loss, neither he nor the Yankees could speculate on the severity of the injury, though that much hardly mattered. Even if it is serious, Nova will have an entire offseason to heal.
A small condolence, perhaps, in a rookie season gone suddenly awry.
"It's hard right now," Nova said. "I don't know what I can tell you."