NEW YORK — All the months of preparation, all the millions of dollars, all the hopes of the Yankees and Tigers come down to this: Ivan Nova vs. Doug Fister for a berth in the AL Championship Series.
Three months ago, one had been demoted to the minors and the other was languishing with a 3-12 record for the last-place Mariners.
"Obviously it's not something I foresaw going on," Fister said Wednesday, about 15 hours after the Yankees stretched the first-round series to the limit with a 10-1 rout in Detroit.
On the first off day of a series interrupted by rain in New York last weekend, there was a cloudless blue sky over Yankee Stadium. But both teams decided not to work out ahead of tonight's Game 5, which determines who plays the defending AL champion Rangers for a berth in the World Series.
"(Today), I got the most important game in my life," Nova said, later adding: "I don't see the reason to feel pressure. It's another game. Of course, it's the most important game of the season now."
Both teams originally planned to use their aces for a Game 5, but those plans went down the drain when rain caused Friday's opener to be suspended after 1½ innings and pushed back New York's CC Sabathia and Detroit's Justin Verlander to Game 3.
Nova, 24, signed with the Yankees in 2004 and was still in Class A four years later when San Diego claimed him in the winter meetings draft. He didn't last long with the Padres, who returned him to New York near the end of spring training in 2009.
He was up and down during the 2010 season but, according to manager Joe Girardi, never complained. He developed a slider and started mixing his pitches better and went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA as a rookie. In his postseason debut, he took over from Sabathia in the completion of Game 1 and pitched shutout ball until the ninth inning of the Yankees' 9-3 win.
"I think we really got out of the strike zone a little more in this series than I had hoped we would," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Fister, acquired on July 30, had the poorest run support of any AL pitcher at 1.97 runs per game at the time of the trade. He went 8-1 with the Tigers down the stretch.
"Yeah, I'm pitching with a different jersey on, but still approaching the game the same way," the 27-year-old old said.
Tigers 2, Yankees 2
Game 1: Yankees 9, Tigers 3
Game 2: Tigers 5, Yankees 3
Game 3: Tigers 5, Yankees 4
Game 4: Yankees 10, Tigers 1
Tonight, 8:37: Tigers (Fister, 11-13, 2.83) at Yankees (Nova, 16-4, 3.70), TBS