This is one of baseball's great slogans, which is used to explain just about everything: "That's why they play 162 games." It is said in reference to determining who is the best team, which statistical leaders are worthy and, in this case, who ought to start postseason games for the Yankees.
The long season always has a survival-of-the-fittest quality, and the fittest for the Yankees this year included an ace (of course), a rookie who was dispatched to the minors during the season and a questionable veteran who had come to spring training with a minor- league contract. Who would have figured back in March that the Division Series rotation after CC Sabathia would consist of Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia? That's why they play 162.
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Joe Girardi made it official Wednesday after the Yankees learned they will play the Tigers in the ALDS starting Friday night. It had become obvious that Nova had earned Andy Pettitte's old No. 2 spot, so the last bit of drama involved who would be given the last place in a three-pitcher setup for the first round. Garcia beat out Bartolo Colon, who lost steam in the second half, and A.J. Burnett, who lost his club's confidence.
The decision puts Game 3 Monday in the hand of a man who is 6-2 lifetime in the postseason, including two wins over the Yankees in 2000 for the Mariners and a clinching victory for the White Sox in Game 4 of the 2005 World Series. But he was a different pitcher then, with a different arm. That was before a series of injuries and string of signings and releases (including three games for the Tigers in 2008).
The same could not be said for Burnett, who pitched briefly in relief Wednesday and whose only shot at pitching against the Tigers will be out of the bullpen.
"You want to see how quickly he can warm up. That's something we got an idea about. And I feel he can do it if he has to," Girardi said Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
"We talked about it and I gave him the option because he had just thrown about 100 pitches Sunday and it would have been his throw day anyway. He said, 'Yeah, I want to give it a shot,' " Girardi said. "I said, 'I'm going to have you face one hitter, that's it. I can't tell you exactly when it's going to be, but I'll try to give you sufficient time to warm up.' He was great about it."
Everyone will have to take Girardi's word for that. Burnett did not speak with reporters Wednesday and was not in the clubhouse Thursdayduring the time in which members of the media were allowed in.
Nova, on the other hand, was sanguine, as he had been throughout a season in which he went 16-4 despite being sent to Triple-A because of the Yankees' rotation numbers game.
In contrast with Garcia, he will be making his postseason debut. "Everything you do, you've got to do with love,'' Nova said Thursday. "I love this, I love baseball. I was waiting for the opportunity I have to pitch in the postseason. I'm going to have my chance in two days. It's going to be fun."
He dreamed of this chance last October when he was working out at the Yankees' complex in Tampa and watching postseason games on TV. Even he had not dreamed high enough to picture himself starting Game 2 in 2011. Nor is he dwelling on what it will be like.
"I'm going to wait for my chance, I'm going to wait for my moment. I cannot put something in my mind," he said.
When he was asked what everyone can expect of him, he added, "The same happy guy who is always here. No pressure. I'm just going to have fun."