It's all up to Ivan. And the rookie and his team are plenty comfortable.

Ivan Nova will pitch Thursday nightin the Yankees' first series-deciding Game 5 since 2005 against the Angels. Doug Fister, who lost Game 1 of the ALDS to Nova, starts for the Tigers.

"I feel good," Joe Girardi said Wednesday at the Stadium. "He's been successful for us all year. He threw well the first playoff game. A lot of times that's the one you worry about."

Nova took over in the third inning for CC Sabathia the day after Game 1 was suspended because of rain. He allowed two runs in 61/3 innings in a 9-3 win.

Nova, while calling this "the most important game in my life," expressed the same confidence he did before his appearance Saturday. It hasn't wavered since early spring, when he correctly predicted he'd win one of the open spots at the back end of the rotation.

"If you want to play in the big leagues, you have to be confident in yourself," said Nova, who is 12-0 with a 3.25 ERA in his last 16 starts, a stretch interrupted in July when a numbers crunch forced the Yankees to send him to the minors.

Nova didn't like the decision made when Phil Hughes came off the disabled list, but how he handled the demotion impressed Girardi. "A lot of times you'll hear through the grapevine a guy complaining through friends or other people," Girardi said. "I never hear him complain. He just went about his business."

Most of which entailed refining a slider that became a reliable third pitch for Nova, who has said being sent down was a blessing in disguise.

Nova talked to Andy Pettitte before his Game 1 appearance. He said Pettitte stressed the importance of bearing down every pitch. Nova repeated something he's said through the season: That he doesn't get nervous, even in an elimination game.

"I don't see the reason to feel pressure," said Nova, 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. "It's another game. Of course, it's the most important game of the season now, but like I always say, if you get nervous, you're going to be in trouble because you can't control yourself."

His teammates don't look at it as if they're depending on a rookie to extend the season.

"Once you get to October, there are no rookies," Mark Teixeira said. "He's a guy that's won a bunch of games for us, been in a lot of big spots and pitched great. He's not scared. He doesn't act like a rookie."

Everyone in pinstripes is looking forward to an atmosphere that Alex Rodriguez figures will be "rocking" come 8:07 p.m. Teixeira added, "It's nice to have an elimination game at home."

Said Girardi: "You have two very good teams playing tomorrow night. Unfortunately, one of us is going to go home. And that's the hard part about this game, because your season is going to end so abruptly."

And if it's the Yankees, even though they had the league's best record, their season will be a disappointment.

"We all understand what the goal is here and that's no secret,'' Girardi said. "I would say for any team in the playoffs, if you don't win the World Series, it's disappointing. You can have good years, but this is why we play . . . We play to win a trophy."

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