May 11, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – The only two uncomfortable moments for a Yankee fan during the Bombers/Seattle Friday night contest in Yankee Stadium under surprisingly super-pleasant conditions are easy to identify. They were the two singleton home runs against pinstriped hurler Hiroki Kuroda for all the Mariners runs in the 6-2 Yankee win.
At first, nervously settling in to watch titular No. 2 starter Kuroda take on the guy often referred to as the league’s best –”King” Felix Hernandez – Dustin Ackley’s home run the other way to left field leading off the game could hardly have been a worse outcome. But fortunately, 12 pitches later the M’s were out, and 13 throws later two base hits around a Curtis Granderson stolen base had the Yanks tied up at 1-1 after one.
What the Yankees got going forward was consistency: Kuroda went seven innings while allowing but one more run. At least one runner reached in all but two frames, and the pitch counts were bizarrely consistent: 15, 14, 14, 15, 18, 17, 12. Featuring a 90-mph heater that reached 93 and a slider that hovered in the low 80s, with a rare split-finger pitch, he blanked Ichiro Suzuki, and allowed just six base hits to his teammates.
Hernandez, meanwhile, had a recently resurgent Yankee offense on his hands, and perpetrator No. 1 was the guy who has been missing through much of the early going. Robinso Cano went 4-for-4, drove in the first run, scored in the sixth, and helped build viable threats two other times. Once Robbie had knotted matters with his single in the first, Hernandez seemed to settle in, retiring six straight after an infield single. But a rally featuring three straight singles in the home fourth, although it failed to take the lead once Ryan Carp pegged Alex Rodriguez out at the plate, represented the beginning of the end for the King.
Although Hernandez would go on to retire three Yankees around a walk in the fifth inning after that threat, the frame cost him 20 pitches, because the free pass was a Derek Jeter 10-pitch masterpiece. Rodriguez led off the sixth reaching on a five-pitch walk before Cano moved him up 90 feet with his third hit, a hard single to right. Felix almost escaped after a fielder’s choice grounder when Gary Darling called Nick Swisher out looking for a second out, but Raul Ibanez promptly drilled the next pitch to the short porch in right for three quick runs, and a 4-2 lead.
Although the Yanks would pepper Hernandez for 11 hits into the seventh, this last rally was accomplished under a bit of duress, because ex-Yank Jesus Montero had homered to right off Kuroda to give Seattle a brief 2-1 lead to start the sixth. Jesus displayed an ease in ripping balls the other way to right wearing the pinstripes in Yankee Stadium last September and, had his round-tripper stood up as the winner in his first game back, it would have hurt. Montero and Hector Noesi, who starts for Seattle Saturday afternoon, were traded for righthanders Michael Pineda and Jose Campos in the offseason; the first of the latter group had season-ending surgery in April and the latter is on the disabled list in the minors.
While Kuroda closed out his night by getting three outs around a walk in the top of the seventh, the Yankees continued their onslaught, driving Hernandez from the mound with a three-single seventh of their own, then adding the game’s two final runs on a single and an Andruw Jones pinch homer off the Seattle bullpen in the eighth. Joe Girardi continued to tread his post-Mariano days carefully, using five relievers to get the last six outs, with David Roberston getting a non-save close by retiring two straight.
One play into Friday’s contest we thought we might be in for a long night, as the two girls seated in front of us cheered Ackley’s home run like there was no tomorrow. But it turned out that they were from Denmark and Norway, respectively, witnessing their first game in the U.S., and they did not know who was who. They were happy the Yanks tied things instantly, but in innings two through five things got a little slow, a few failed Yankee rallies notwithstanding. It was fortunate it was not their grandmothers visiting, because on May 11-12, 1919, the Yankees followed a 12-inning scoreless tie with the Senators the first day with a 4-4 tie in 17 innings on the twelfth. But not to worry, Yankee rallies in the sixth through eighth Friday produced five runs, and long balls to both right and left field. Europe apparently gets it: Baseball is fun.
Although I’m glad that we, and the Yanks, were successful ambassadors for the sport with the loud late-inning rallies, this victory belongs to the far from scintillating Mr. Kuroda. His 59/46 strikes/balls ratio wasn’t very good, though he only walked three, and none of them scored. He found the zone on first pitches just 14 times in 29 tries, and he struck out only two, on just six swings and misses. But he put a not very good Seattle offense to sleep inning after inning with his middling fastballs and unrelenting sliders. The King allowed four runs, Kuroda just two.
Eighty-five years ago today, General Henry Martyn Robert, author of Robert’s Rules of Order, passed away. Hiroki Kuroda certainly did not master the Mariners Friday the way CC Sabathia had the Rays Thursday. All Kuroda did was,
Instill a Sense of Order