It may not be the marquee pitching matchup of CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, but Game 5 still has the pitching quality that should make for a closely fought elimination game and high drama down to the final out.
Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees and Doug Fister of the Detroit Tigers will head to the mound Thursday evening in hopes of extending their team's season by at least another four games, while sending their competitor home for the winter with only disappointment to dwell on until the first pitch of spring training 2012.
The game will be sort of a repeat of the Game 1 matchup. Although he did record the win, Nova actually pitched in relief of CC Sabathia, going 6.1 innings in the win.
Fister tossed 4.2 innings in relief of Justin Verlander's one inning of work a day earlier in the rain-delayed game.
This time both pitchers will get the ball from the start of the game and duel it out as they look to pitch their teams into the American League Championship Series against the Texas Rangers.
Ivan Nova was one of the bright spots in the Yankees rotation this season, posting a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA.
Nova did not face the Detroit Tigers in a 2011 regular season game prior to facing them in the first game of the playoffs.
At home this season, where Game 5 will take place, Nova posted an 8-2 record with a 4.11 ERA. His opponents batted .269 against him in Yankee Stadium.
Nova was much better in the second half of the season, going 8-0 and lowering his ERA to 3.18 after the All-Star break.
Doug Fister put together a good all-around season, but the major difference is most evident in comparing his time spent with the Seattle Mariners versus his time after the trade with the Detroit Tigers.
In 21 starts for the Mariners, he went 3-12 but had an impressive 3.33 ERA. His K/9 ratio at the time of the trade was 5.5, right in line with his career averages.
Following the trade to the Tigers, Fister went 8-1 in 11 starts with a 1.79 ERA and his K/9 ratio exploded to 11.4.
He certainly was two different pitchers, albeit good in both situations. He finished his campaign with an overall 11-13 record and a 2.83 ERA.
Although the stat is a bit deceiving since he was traded mid-season, Fister had a 3.36 ERA in road starts and held opposing batters to a .243 average.
He lost his only regular season start to the Yankees before taking the loss in Game 1 of the playoffs as well. In his regular season appearance against New York, he pitched seven innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while striking out five batters.
Nova took over in Game 1 of the American League Division Series following two innings of work from CC Sabathia who had pitched a day earlier prior to the rain-out.
Nova allowed just two runs on four hits while striking out five Tigers and walking four in his 6.1 innings of work.
It's worth noting, though, that the two runs Nova was charged with did not score while he was on the mound. He was lifted from the game in the ninth inning after loading the bases. Relieving Nova, Luis Ayala allowed the two runs to score, being charged to Nova's final line since he was responsible for putting them on base.
He showed a lot of composure on the mound considering it was his postseason debut. If he was nervous, it certainly did not show as he proceeded to shut the Tigers down while only scattering four hits.
Doug Fister, also making his postseason debut in Game 1, did not show as much composure.
In his 4.2 innings of work after Justin Verlander was pushed from the rain-delayed game a day earlier, he would allow six runs, all earned, on seven hits. He struck out six and walked two Yankees batters.
Fister actually started off on a role, retiring 11 straight Yankees, five on swinging strikes.
Following that impressive streak, the Yankees would reach base safely, seven of the next 10 times, including an RBI double by Robinson Cano, a two-run RBI single by Brett Gardner and a grand slam by Cano that would charge three more runs to Fister, who had just been replaced by Al Alburquerque.
Despite the final pitching line, Fister actually threw a pretty good game that just unraveled at the end.
In regular season appearances, only Wilson Betemit (1-2, .500), Magglio Ordonez (1-1, 1.000) and Delmon Young (1-3, .333) had career hits against Ivan Nova.
Ryan Rayburn, Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez got their first career hits against Nova during Game 1, and Magglio Ordonez added the final hit allowed by Nova.
The Tigers will hope that having already seen him once this series will allow them to make the necessary adjustments to collect some hits in Game 5, score some runs and drive him from the game early.
Nova will be looking to continue his mastery of the Tigers in his limited appearances against Detroit batters.
The Yankees have seen Fister many times throughout the years.
Derek Jeter has been the toughest Yankees batter on the 27-year-old righty, batting .400 through 10 at-bats lifetime with a pair of RBI.
Robinson Cano (2-6), Curtis Granderson (1-3), Jorge Posada (2-6) and Mark Teixeira (3-9) all have .333 batting averages against Fister.
Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher all have one homer each off him in regular season appearances.
In Game 1 of this postseason, the Yankees added seven postseason hits to Fister's line, with Robinson Cano doing the most damage with an RBI double.
Posada, Russel Martin, Granderson, Teixeira and Gardner all added hits in the Yankees victory against Fister.
The key for both pitchers in this game is going to be to keep the ball down in the zone and force ground outs. Whichever pitcher does this most effectively will have the best shot of winning the game.
For Ivan Nova, when he kept the trajectory of his pitches down in the zone, his opponents managed just a .253 batting average. Surprisingly, he holds his batters to their lowest average when he keeps the ball up in the zone, although it's worth noting that this is also a contributing factor to why his home stats are worse than his road stats; balls fly well in Yankee Stadium, and keeping the ball up in the zone results in home runs.
For Nova, when he forces batters to hit the ball on the ground, and keeps them in the infield, his batting average against is a microscopic .048.
For Doug Fister, his fly-ball and ground-ball batting averages allowed are the exact same .192. He also holds batters to a microscopic batting average (.080) when he gets balls hit in the infield.
Despite his success as a fly-ball pitcher, he'll want to keep the ball on the ground as well to keep the ball out of the stands in Yankee Stadium.
Also worth noting, Nova acknowledged his excitement got the better of him for his first inning of work in Game 1. He settled down quickly and kept the Tigers batters at bay until the ninth inning following his first inning of work, but he will need to check those emotions when he takes the mound in an even more pressure-packed elimination situation Thursday evening.
Although the experience will also be a first for Fister, his veteran experience and less expectations from being an underdog visitor may give him a slight advantage.
So, while it may not be the marquee matchup of Sabathia vs. Verlander, Nova vs. Fister will still qualify as must-see TV for baseball fans around the country and a hot ticket to a sold-out show if you live in New York.