Ichi-2 in a–Ro

August 19, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – The Yankees cashed in their second straight series win while concluding their seven-game homestand Sunday night with a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox in the ESPN Sunday night game, the second time in three weeks Yankee fans have been “thrilled” to spend a late Sunday night in the Bronx. A home team win this time around notwithstanding, however, locals could be forgiven for having visions of the major league scheduling department filled with images of monkeys and dart boards.

It was a three-star win for the Yanks, with offensive heroes Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki responsible for two runs apiece, while starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda followed up his two-hit complete-game shutout Tuesday night with eight innings of four-hit, one-run ball this time around. A guy who often goes the other way for his [thousands of] base hits, Yankee Captain Jeter was “feeling his oats” against Boston righty Josh Beckett this night. He drilled a double off the wall in dead center leading off the bottom of the first, scoring the Yanks’ first run, then followed that up with a one-out grounds-rule two-bagger in the third, eventually crossing the plate with the home team’s second tally on a Beckett wild pitch.

As it turned out that would be sufficient support for Kuroda, who would not allow a hit until there were two outs in the top of the third, and a run until Adrian Gonzalez lifted a one-out home run to right in the seventh. Coming off a 1-0 loss to Felix Hernandez and the Mariners, a no-decision in a 4-3 Yankee win in Detroit where a badly blown umpire call had him briefly set up for a loss, and the Tuesday shutout against Texas, Hiroki gave the team and their fans what they’ve come to expect: lots of low-scoring innings and an excellent chance for a win.

Kuroda’s outing showed some nuance this time around: One out into the visiting sixth, he had recorded 16 outs on three strike outs and 11 ground balls, seven of which were bouncers to Robinson Cano at second. A questionable Paul Emmel “safe” call when Robbie appeared to have tagged Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who went out of the baseline, regardless) on an attempted 4-4-3 in the fifth cost Cano a putout, but he would record a putout and yet another assist on a 6-4-3 in the ninth.

But once Hiroki had a 3-0 lead after the fourth, his approach changed somewhat too, as he relied more on fastballs. The Sox had reached him for just one fly ball through five innings, but once a more comfortable lead was secured, the Japanese righty coaxed six of his last eight outs on via the air. Showing increased confidence in his veteran righty, Joe Girardi sent Hiroki back out for the eighth inning despite a pitch count of 101; Kuroda did not let him down. Totalling things after yet another one-two-three frame, he threw 16 first-pitch strikes to 28 batters through eight, and his 75/37 strikes/balls count was so precisely on target for the ideal 2-to-1 ratio to be almost laughable.

But Kuroda was able to adjust his strategy as the game continued because his lead was growing. Recent addition to the Bombers outfield Ichiro Suzuki, whom the twitterverse informs me had reached Beckett for one home run in 38 tries coming into this night, obviously saw something he liked about the Boston vet’s approach. Ichiro just missed on a hard liner to right center in the second, but he would not miss against Beckett again. Fouling off two straight pitches at 1-1 with two down in the fourth, he lined a homer to right to up the Yankee lead to 3-0. Ichiro showed less patience in the home sixth, unleashing another rocket to right on a 1-0 pitch. The 2-0 Yankee lead the Yanks had earned on Jeter’s two doubles may have calmed Hiroki and his teammates down, but the fans need a bigger bulge, and Ichiro’s two blasts provided that.

Seventy years to the day before this contest, the U.S. and Japan were locked in a multi-day confrontation that would come to be known as the Battle of Guadal Canal. An eventual World War II victory for America, it would cost many lives on both sides. One wonders how history might have played out differently had citizens of both countries been able to more completely share their love for the game of baseball at that time. But from our historical perch many years removed, Yankee fans are nothing but thrilled by the contributions of Japanese players. Hideki Irabu, though he had mixed results, added a Japanese face to baseball in the Bronx, and what can I say about 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, who taught me a lot about passion when he apologized for breaking his wrist trying to beat Boston in the Bronx?

So although as home-spun a guy as you could imagine (with New Jersey and Michigan roots) got this win started with his two doubles, it is quite a thrill that the work of Kuroda and Suzuki played such a big role. We will continue to rely on stellar play from both going forward. On August 19, 2001, in a Seattle 10-2 win against the Yankees, Suzuki set a record when he extended a hitting streak to 16 games, becoming the first player to have three hitting streaks of 15 hits or more in a year since 1980.

I rooted hard for a third straight home run from Suzuki this night, but as it turned out he finished in a similar manner to the way in which Jeter did, singling in the next appearance, as the Yankee shortstop had. While first star for this win has to go to Kuroda, should this team fulfill its promise and bring a 28th ring to the Bronx, you could do worse than assembling whatever baseball mementos and books you have from the season between bookends inspired by the captain and the late-season trade acquisition. Perhaps one of the big games you’ll look back on will be the night of,

Ichi-two in a-Ro!