Bronx, N.Y., June 30, 2012 – It would be ridiculous to describe a team finishing the month of June with a four-game lead over their division as “struggling,” but coming off losing two starters to the DL, a pen-blown lead, and a blowout loss started by their newest replacement candidate, Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees was facing a key date with the White Sox and ace righty Jake Peavy Saturday afternoon. And what a day to be on the “hot seat,” one of the hottest days in the 2012 New York summer.
With the White Sox leading the AL Central under first-year manager Robin Ventura, and their wins in the series’ first two games, Kuroda was pressed right from the start, as center fielder Alejandro de Aza singled on his second pitch, and Adam Dunn walked and Paul Konerko singled with two down. Catcher Russell Martin had helped by pegging de Aza out stealing, however, and when Hiroki slipped a slider past a swinging Alex Rios, the veteran Yankee righty had his second of two strike outs and first of seven scoreless frames.
His teammates did Kuroda a world of good by reaching Peavy for two hits and a run right away, and another two safeties and a tally for a 2-0 lead through two. A usual culprit, Curtis Granderson, accounted for run No. 1 with his 23rd home run, but the newly resurgent defensive specialist, DeWayne Wise, provided the latter with a hard double to right center to plate DH Nick Swisher, who had battled through seven pitches to lead off the second inning with a single.
From there it was a battle of attrition, and Peavy was quite good, spinning eight strong innings with 11 strike outs for a complete-game loss. But although the 26-pitch first contributed to a seven-inning day for Kuroda, he was superb, retiring 14 straight starting with the Rios K, allowing but three singles and one walk, and striking out 11 White Sox batters for more than half of his outs. Mixing low nineties fastballs that on occasion reached 94 mph, with a smattering of curves, a split, and a slew of killer sliders, he dominated the opposition, but not in the way you’d expect. Both the 68/39 strikes/balls ratio and the 14-11 first-pitch strike marks were good, but here’s the kicker: He slipped 20 pitches past swinging White Sox bats to fashion nine of his 11 K’s against flailing wood.
With Hiroki’s great start and the 2-0 lead to which he was staked, there is just a little additional offense that needs to be mentioned. The Yanks posted a 4-0 win, stroking two additional singleton homers, the first from Wise, who added a single for a 3-for-3 day. Granderson and Robinson Cano, who hit the last of the homers and who just missed another outside the foul pole, had two hits each. The anti-Sox (of any color) fans got a kick when ex-Boston third sacker Kevin Youkilis lost a foul pop in the sun in the home second. But Youk was also center stage for a potential drama that could extend into Sunday. Derek Jeter was plunked with a fifth-inning Peavy fastball, and Kuroda hit Youkilis with a pitch in the top of the sixth.
The 4-0 win concludes a month during which the Yanks posted 10- and five-game winning streaks, achieving and staking a claim to first place with their best month record in four years, 20-7. On June 30, 1961, another Yankee team that relied heavily on the home run beat the Senators 5-1 for a 22-10 June mark, a win where no struck ball cleared a fence, even if Mickey Mantle did come through with a home run of the inside-the-park variety.
But although the Yanks continue to do their best to please their paying customers with the best possible baseball, they are not averse to sweetening the entertainment pot with plenty of extras. They willingly embraced Mashable’s third annual social media day (hashtag #smday for those new to it) with giveaways broadcast via @Yankees and @YankeesPR, and gave out Yankee luggage tags to the first 18,000 fans who passed through the turnstiles. But lest you think the underage portion of the clientele was left lacking, the home team arranged for Yankee season ticket holders to have their children and those of their friends to run the bases following the game, the first time this particular amenity has been awarded to the fanbase in this baseball palace.
Three different Yankee players drove in runs in the 4-0 home team win, and four of them crossed the plate, just a smattering of the news that was flitting all across the ballpark through nine “social” innings, along with marriage proposals, food reviews, and invites for a beverage or two. But none of the Yankees who scored was happier doing so than the hundreds of younguns who crossed the plate after the game.