NEW YORK -- It comes down to the fact that the loss of a start from Justin Verlander for the Tigers in the suspended Game 1 of their American League Division Series on Friday may have swung the first round in favor of the Yankees.
Instead of Cy Young Award-candidate Verlander, the Tigers will have right-hander Doug Fister on the mound for climactic Game 5 Thursday at Yankee Stadium at 8 p.m. ET on TBS against Yankees rookie Ivan Nova.
The Tigers lost Game 4, 10-1, on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, knotting the best-of-five series at two games apiece. That forced the teams to collide on Thursday night for the right to play the Rangers in the AL Championship Series, which opens Saturday. Fister is on the spot, and he's more than ready.
"Everybody wants to be in that position," Fister said. "Everybody wants to be that guy on the mound in that kind of critical game. It's an honor for me to do it. At the same time, it's just another game, a little more important than the game [Tuesday night]. The game at hand is always the one that's most important."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he's content with the Fister-Nova matchup and has all the confidence in the world in Fister, despite his 9-3 loss to Nova when suspended Game 1 of the series resumed this past Saturday night in the Bronx.
Key stat: 3.95 K/BB ratio was sixth best in the AL
Key stat: 0.7 HR/9 is second best in NYY rotation (Sabathia)
At Yankee Stadium
2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.86 Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.86
2011: 14 GS, 8-2, 4.11 Career: 18 GS, 8-3, 4.19
Against this opponent
2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.86 Career: 3 GS, 1-2, 6.00
2011: N/A Career: 0 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA (2 IP)
Loves to face.: Alex Rodriguez, 1-for-8 Hates to face: Robinson Cano, 3-for-8
Loves to face: Miguel Cabrera, 0-for-3 Hates to face: Victor Martinez, 1-for-3
Why he'll win: Team that has won Game 3 of tied LDS has won 19 of 23 series
Why he'll win: 6 IP, 2 ER, W in Game 1 against DET at Yankee Stadium
Pitcher beware: 4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 ER against NYY in Game 1
Pitcher beware: 4.16 xFIP reveals some luck and run support behind gaudy record
Bottom line: Don't stop believing
Bottom line: Don't call it a comeback
"Fister is a really good pitcher," Leyland said Wednesday during an off-day media conference at the Stadium. "Nova is a good pitcher. He beat us in the first game here. It's one game. I don't know what's going to happen. Somebody can get a good bounce or a bad bounce. Somebody can hit a dramatic home run. Somebody can make an error. I can't predict that."
But no question, The Tigers' season is all on the shoulders of Fister, who went 8-1 this year after Detroit obtained him in a July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal with Seattle.
"We have a lot of confidence in him," third baseman Bradon Inge said after the game on Tuesday night. "He's going to pitch the way he normally does, using his sinking ball. We'll play our best game and see what happens."
Before the rains came this past Friday night in New York, Verlander pitched a shaky first inning, walking two and allowing Derek Jeter to reach safely on a wild strike three. Jeter scored on a groundout by Alex Rodriguez. Verlander threw 25 pitches in Game 1, but he was pretty dominant on Monday night in front of the home fans at Comerica, returning to throw 120 pitches, strike out 11 and defeat the Yankees in Game 3, 5-4.
Verlander bested CC Sabathia, whom he also faced off against before Game 1 was washed away and suspended. Leyland was planning to have Verlander make two full starts in the series, having his ace ready and able to start Game 5. Then the heavens burst.
Leyland reiterated on Wednesday that Verlander will not pitch in the deciding game, although Yankees manager Joe Girardi indicated that Sabathia might be available for a relief stint. Leyland, though, said he's not disappointed that Verlander, 24-5 during the regular season and 1-0 in this postseason, won't even be available out of the 'pen.
"I don't think it's disappointing at all," Leyland said. "What happened is you saw him and CC in that game at home. It was electric. Certainly, everybody got their money's worth. I would assume the TV ratings were good. You saw 100-mph, 101-mph fastballs. No, that's just the way it played out. I'm thankful everybody got to see him. Our fans got to see that game Verlander pitched. So it worked out pretty good. No problem."
Instead, Leyland is hoping for the best from Fister, who allowed six runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings of Game 1, technically in relief of Verlander. Leyland didn't think Fister pitched poorly despite those numbers. Obviously, Fister hopes the results will be much better on Thursday.
"Top to bottom, they've got a great lineup," Fister said on Wednesday about the Yankees. "At this point, pitching in the ALDS, everybody is good. And so you've got to be on top of your game from one through nine and be ready to go. But at the same time, we've got a pretty good lineup, too. And I have a lot of faith in our hitters. So it's going to be a good dogfight."
This is what happened when Game 1 was resumed: After a rough start, Fister had the Yankees jumping at breaking pitches out of the strike zone, and he recorded five quick whiffs by the time the end of the fourth inning came around.
The Yankees then stopped hacking and made Fister put his pitches in the zone. That resulted in a couple of walks and a big crooked No. 6 on the scoreboard in the sixth inning. Had Robinson Cano's shot that hit the top of the left-field fence in the fifth inning and hopped into the stands instead of back on the field for a double, matters would have been even worse.
There are lessons to be learned, and Fister needs to be a quick study.
"We've got to come out with fire in our eyes ready to play," he said. "Play good defense. Have the offense with us. I'll just focus on the next pitch, the next pitch. That's my understanding of it. That's my mentality. That's how I'm going to attack it, and I think everybody else on this team is, too. We're taking this thing one step at a time. We all just have to focus on our jobs and do them."
Whether it all turns out to be a big break for the Yankees or a fortuitous set of circumstances for the Tigers, the answer right now is blowing in the wind.
"The one thing that you can't predict is what would have happened in Game 1 if it was Verlander against CC [the whole way]," Girardi said. "Who knows where we would have stood? So it is what it is. Is it a break? I don't know. I really don't because we can't go back in time and say what would have happened. If Verlander would have pitched that game, would they have won that game? I don't know. So to me, it's a hypothetical question, and you know how I feel about those."