KANSAS CITY -- All season long, Hiroki Kuroda has been the New York Yankees' best and most consistent starter, and he is hot right now. But off the mound, the 38-year-old right-hander usually runs pretty cool.
Except for Sunday afternoon, because when he left the mound at Kauffman Stadium in the eighth inning of Sunday's 4-2 Yankees victory over the Kansas City Royals, he stopped to direct a few choice words at home plate umpire Laz Diaz.
Asked what he said, a laughing Kuroda replied, "I don't remember."
Asked if he could at least reveal whether he spoke to Diaz in Japanese or English, Kuroda, still laughing, said, "Again, I don't remember."
And asked if Diaz would remember, Kuroda said, "Please ask him what he thinks."
It really didn't matter, because aside from a questionable call on a 2-0 pitch to Alex Gordon, who smacked the next pitch for a double, chasing Kuroda from the game, everything pretty much went his way. Kuroda gave up a run in the first inning and then shut down the Royals until the eighth, when they added one more. In between, Kuroda, who suffered from terminal lack of run support in his previous outing, a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies, got a veritable plethora of help today, four runs on home runs by Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells in the third and an RBI single by Wells in the fifth.
"I don't feel like I was particularly good today," said Kuroda, who improved to 5-2 with a 2.31 ERA, both the highest win total and lowest ERA on the starting staff. "Whether we score or not it doesn’t change what I do on the mound so I just try to attack the hitters."
After Jarrod Dyson led off the first with a double, Kuroda retired the next 12 Royals, the run scoring on a sacrifice fly. He scattered three hits until the eighth, when a leadoff double by Elliott Johnson turned into a run on a groundout by Alcides Escobar.
Kuroda was not overpowering (just one strikeout) but he was economical, needing just 82 pitches to work the first seven innings. And it seemed that he really, really wanted to finish the eighth inning, if only to save the Yankees' bullpen for Monday's makeup doubleheader in Cleveland. As it turned out, manager Joe Girardi had to call for David Robertson to get the last out of the inning, calling into question his availability for tomorrow.
"He probably knew it was his last hitter out there, and that pitch changed the at-bat," Chris Stewart said of the 2-0 pitch that was called a ball. "He ended up not getting that call there, and then the guy gets the double off him, and they get him out of the game. He was just upset at the time, a little frustration boiling over, and they had a little exchange."
Diaz, a voluble sort, followed Kuroda part of the way back to the dugout, jawing away but Kuroda did not go back at him.
"It was the heat of the moment," Kuroda said, "so I was kind of fired up, which is something I don’t like to do."
"I’ve never seen that from Hiro," Girardi said. "But every competitive guy has that in him, and he's a competitive guy."
QUESTION: If the playoffs started tomorrow -- and of course, they don't -- who would like to see pitch the first game: Kuroda or CC Sabathia?