Smoltz can relate to Game 5 pressure

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We won't know until Thursday night how Ivan Nova and Doug Fister react to starting a playoff elimination game in the Bronx spotlight. But the analysts in TBS' broadcast booth will be able to relate to the experience more than most.

Both have been there and done that, including starting Game 7s of the World Series.

Ron Darling pitched poorly in 1986, but the Mets won. John Smoltz pitched well in 1991, but the Braves lost. These things are difficult to predict, and not always fair. "But here's what you do know,'' Smoltz said Wednesday. "You know you're going to have a short leash and need to pitch perfect; that in itself can choke you.''

It can if you don't have the kind of mental makeup Smoltz did. "My mind-set was: Not on my watch. It's not going to happen,'' he said. "You can't go out there worried about what would happen. You have to go out and worry about dominating and about your teammates.

"The fact is I enjoyed it, too. I think people forget to enjoy it. A lot of people go: Oh, man. But you can't start going down that trail.''

Fister is more experienced, but even though he is a rookie Nova consistently has seemed unfazed. Smoltz is impressed with what he has seen. Still, this will be uncharted territory. "It's not a knock on him, but he's yet to be really tested,'' Smoltz said, referring in part to Nova's abundant run support. "I think it will be an interesting test for his makeup if it's a tight game.''

Smoltz said Nova's sinker could be susceptible to staying up if the "tension and adrenaline'' kick in. "Both these guys are rhythm pitchers,'' he said. "That rhythm can get hurried or altered.''

The only elimination game for which Smoltz could recall being charged with a loss was Game 4 of the 1999 World Series against the Yankees and Roger Clemens. Mostly, he relished the opportunities and only dreaded what CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander will experience Thursday night.

"You get sick to your stomach when you're watching it and not pitching,'' he said. "When there is nothing you can do about it, it's worse. You get so nervous. You'd rather be out there.''

Smoltz praised.Smoltz has been widely praised for his television work during the ALCS, including a couple of timely first-guesses in key situations.

"I'm just doing what somewhat comes naturally,'' he said. "Honestly, I'm just reliving 25 years of what I've watched. I try not to be afraid to get out front of something and be wrong."

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McCarver out. Fox analyst Tim McCarver will miss the first two games of the ALCS because of what the network described as a "minor" heart procedure late this week. Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona will replace him.

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