The rookie looked out at a roomful of media Friday afternoon and gave a familiar smile. "I don't get nervous,'' Ivan Nova said. And last night, the 24-year-old righthander proved it.
Nova pitched into the ninth inning and Robinson Cano drove in six runs with a trio of two-out hits -- including a grand slam in a six-run sixth -- as the Yankees beat the Tigers, 9-3, in Game 1 of their American League Division Series in front of a noisy Stadium-record crowd of 50,940.
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"I was really excited,'' Nova said. "I was more confident and slowed everything down. So it was good.''
The game, suspended in the bottom of the second inning Friday night because of heavy rain, was resumed at 8:36 last night with Never Nervous Nova, 12-0 with a 3.25 ERA in his last 16 starts of the regular season, taking over for CC Sabathia.
"He did exactly what we needed him to do,'' said Derek Jeter, who went 2-for-5 and scored three runs. "He's been doing it all year.''
Nova, originally scheduled to pitch Game 2 -- which will be played Sunday afternoon -- allowed four hits and four walks in 61/3 innings before leaving to a thunderous ovation with the bases loaded, one out and a 9-1 lead in the ninth. Luis Ayala allowed two of Nova's runners to score before Mariano Rivera relieved him with two outs and the bases loaded and struck out former Yankee Wilson Betemit on three pitches to end it.
Nova gave the Yankees, not to mention their fans, a much more comfortable feeling if there's a series-deciding Game 5, as he likely would be the starter.
"I thought he controlled the game,'' Nick Swisher said.
Al Alburquerque, who had struck out 67 in 431/3 innings and hadn't allowed a home run to the 182 batters he faced in the regular season, was brought in to face Cano in the sixth with the Yankees holding a 4-1 lead, and Cano responded with his two-out grand slam. "He threw a slider and it didn't do anything,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "One of the best hitters in baseball hit it out.''
An inning earlier, Cano's two-out double had given the Yankees a 2-1 lead. And in the eighth, Cano's two-out RBI double made it 9-1 and capped a six-RBI night. "He makes it look so easy,'' Russell Martin said, "and it's not.''
The other big hit for the Yankees was by Brett Gardner, whose two-out, two-run single on an 0-and-2 pitch began the scoring in the six-run sixth.
Doug Fister, originally scheduled to start Game 2 for the Tigers, started the resumed game and shut out the Yankees for three innings. But he allowed Cano's RBI double in the fifth that put the Yankees ahead 2-1, then imploded in the sixth.
Mark Teixeira slashed an opposite-field double into the leftfield corner to lead off the sixth. With two outs and runners on second and third, Fister got ahead of Gardner 0-and-2, but he hung a curveball and Gardner grounded it up the middle for a two-run single that made it 4-1.
Joe Girardi called for a hit-and-run and Jeter grounded a single through the space vacated by second baseman Ryan Raburn, putting runners at first and third. After Granderson walked to load the bases, Leyland brought in Alburquerque, a hard-throwing swing-and-miss righthander, to face Cano. He got ahead 0-and-1 before the second baseman hit a towering grand slam into the second deck in right.
"They just kept attacking,'' Fister said. "We tried doing our best to mix them up and put the balls in the right location. I missed my location on a few of them, and obviously they made me pay.''
And took, what the Yankees hope, is control of the series.
Can Game 1 be a tone-setter? "Absolutely, especially in a short series,'' Gardner said. "Playing at home, in front of our fans, it's a great win for us.''
Girardi knows it's early. "This is one game,'' he said. "It's always nice to win the first one. Now tomorrow becomes an important game. And against this club, you're going to have to make pitches.''
Nova did. Now it will be up to Freddy Garcia to do the same.