Technically, it was a relief appearance. But no matter how it was officially recorded, Ivan Nova‘s first playoff appearance was, wait for it … super. The rookie pitcher came into Yankee Stadium to complete a playoff game that was shortened by rain on Friday evening. All Nova did was step comfortably into the big shoes of CC Sabathia.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be scripted. Game One was going to be about superstar aces Sabathia and Justin Verlander duking it out on the mound. Instead, it was about a young righty who has been a stable and reliable force in the Yankees rotation for most of the season. While I’m sure Nova must have had butterflies before his first playoff start, he sure didn’t pitch like he was nervous. He went 6.1 innings with five strikeouts, looking comfortable against a Detroit lineup that included such formidable hitters as Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
In a Yankee locker room full of superstars, Nova has flown under the radar. He has quietly had a very good season going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. He should certainly be in contention for Rookie of the Year. The numbers warrant it, especially since he pitches in a hitter-friendly park in the biggest, most scrutinized market in the major leagues.
Add to the story that Nova wasn’t supposed be the pitching product from the Yankees farm system that everyone was all jazzed about. The talk was supposed to be about Phil Hughes and/or Joba Chamberlain. How fitting then that the last great starting pitcher to come out of the Yankee system, Andy Pettitte, threw out the first pitch before Game 1. Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come.