Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Kuroda, Swisher eye October glory
By Andrew Marchand ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- This was a dream night. A night, if you have it in August, that you always remember.
If you have it in October, everyone remembers.
On Tuesday, Hiroki Kuroda took a no-hitter into the seventh by pitching what his manager described as the best game by a Yankee all season. Kuroda looked like a guy who could mess with Texas in an ALCS Game 2. Kuroda's main run support didn't come until the seventh inning, and when it did, it was Nick Swisher standing up to near-triple-digit heat and sending it into the night.
"Hiro is my hero," Swisher said after the Yankees' 3-0 win put them halfway to sweeping the Rangers.
Kuroda and Swisher will be vital Yankees in six weeks. With Andy Pettitte's return and potential effectiveness uncertain, Kuroda seems destined to be the Yankees' Game 2 starter after a presumably healthy CC Sabathia.
Heroes Hiroki Kuroda and Nick Swisher celebrate a 3-0 win over Texas in a possible playoff preview.
Since Swisher has infamously failed in October, he is relishing every moment of what he thinks could be his final days in pinstripes. He wants playoff redemption in the worst way, even if he won't say it.
"I don't know what is going to happen at the end of this season," said Swisher, a free agent after the year. "I do know where I'm at right now. This town, this organization, this team has been so great to me. I'm just doing my best to try and enjoy it because I don't know what is going to happen. That word 'regret' -- I don't like that word. I'm going to have no regrets."
The 37-year-old Kuroda wanted the no-hitter for the sake of the fans, but he was really focused on simply winning the game. He is only 11-8, despite an ERA that dipped to 3.06 after the shutout. He has gone at least seven scoreless innings six times this year. No one else in the majors has done that.
"It is only a win," Kuroda said. "If I could get 10 wins out of a no-hitter, I would do it every day."
Overall, Kuroda allowed just two hits and a total of four balls to leave the infield.
The Yankees love what they see from Kuroda. Still, while it is nice to pitch well in the regular season, legends cement their places when it is cold outside.
Kuroda will likely be the Yankees' Game 2 starter regardless of whether Pettitte's fibula is ready. Since Major League Baseball added the new wild-card system so close to Opening Day, the ALDS begins this year with the higher seed on the road for the first two games.
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If Pettitte is healthy, the Yankees will probably want to keep him stashed away to begin Game 3 in the Bronx. If Pettitte can't pitch in the playoffs, it is anyone's guess at this point who would start Game 3.
If Kuroda gets Texas again, he will enter with confidence. At Arlington in April, he threw 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball. On Tuesday, he was even better. With his fastball and sinker a few ticks higher than normal, consistently reaching the mid-90s, he pitched ahead all night.
With one out in the sixth, Mitch Moreland hit a slow grounder toward second base. Robinson Cano veered to his right, backhanded the ball and nonchalantly flipped it across his body to preserve the no-hitter. Kuroda struck out the next batter, Ian Kinsler, on a 95 mph sinker. The 44,533 on hand, sensing they may see some history, erupted into their loudest ovation of the night.
Leading off the seventh, Elvis Andrus grounded to the other side of second. Shortstop Jayson Nix sprinted over, hurriedly trying to keep the no-hitter alive. Nix was at short because Joe Girardi wanted to give American League hits leader Derek Jeter a half-day as the DH. Nix dove and stabbed the ball, jumping up and, with all his might, firing to first.
Andrus is just too fast, so Nix never had a real chance. No-hitter over.
While Kuroda dominated, Rangers lefty Matt Harrison held his own, putting up zeroes for the first six innings. The game had a playoff feel.
In the seventh, after a one-out Jeter single, Rangers manager Ron Washington pulled Harrison for flame-thrower Alexi Ogando, whose fastball flirts with 100 every time he lets it go.
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"It is like you are hitting off of sound, man," said Swisher, who was hitless in six previous at-bats against Ogando. "He threw the first pitch and I'm like, 'That is not a normal 98.' It is coming right out of his ear. You can literally hear it coming in. You are just trying to be quick."
Ogando reached back to unleash a 98 mph missile, Swisher turned on it, connected and admired. Swisher stood like a tourist glimpsing the Mona Lisa for the first time. He seemed in awe. Swisher said it was more shock than cockiness.
"I was like, 'Oh, my gosh.' I couldn't believe I hit it like that," Swisher said.
The next batter, Mark Teixeira, made it back-to-back and the Yankees were up 3-nil. The Yankees took a game-and-a-half lead over the Rangers in the race for home field in the AL playoffs.
"Getting up in that spot is one thing, pulling it off is another," said Swisher, who has hit .169 in 124 postseason at-bats. "There is no backing like the Yankee Universe that I've ever been a part of. I'm just trying to enjoy this. I'm memory-banking a lot of stuff. I'm just going to roll this out and see how this plays out."
If a night like Tuesday were to happen in October, neither Swisher nor Kuroda would have to memory-bank anything. Those moments live forever in the Bronx.