Commentary

Kuroda steals show in the Bronx

Yankees righty was almost perfect while all eyes were on Mets' Johan Santana

Updated: June 9, 2012, 1:35 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The 48,566 on hand and the entire baseball city wanted to see whether Johan Santana had a Johnny Vander Meer in him. After his historic 134 pitches a week ago, breaking a more than half-century jinx, there could be only one featured attraction Friday night.

[+] EnlargeHiroki Kuroda
Debby Wong/US PresswireKuroda is starting to look worthy of the $10 million contract the Yankees gave him.

Santana was playing the Bronx.

But a funny thing happened a week after history. It appeared as if one of Yogi Berra's best lines might come to life. Deja vu sure was taking place all over again. But it wasn't Santana who was slicing up a lineup and dancing with a no-hitter until two outs in the sixth.

It was the guy many of the nearly 50,000 probably didn't even know was going to be on the mound for the Yankees.

Hiroki Kuroda retired the first 10 Mets he faced Friday night, before a Derek Jeter error in the fourth. After a double play erased that baserunner, Kuroda had another 1-2-3 inning in the fifth.

In the sixth, he retired the first two batters he faced before, finally, the Mets' No. 9 hitter, Omar Quintanilla, nailed a no-doubt-about-it double.

Kuroda would go on to retire four more batters, mixing in his first walk in the process, to finish the top of the seventh.

The final out Kuroda recorded occurred when Daniel Murphy lined a ball off his left foot that bounded into the air before coming to rest in the glove of Alex Rodriguez. That ended Kuroda's night.

In all, Kuroda went seven scoreless, allowing just that one hit, striking out seven and walking one. He left after the seventh because of his bruised foot. An X-ray showed no bones were broken.

"You have to be somewhat concerned," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Kuroda didn't seem concerned. He said he will make his next start.

All Kuroda did Friday night was continue a Subway Series tradition of Buster Douglases beating Mike Tysons. From the first Subway Series game in 1997, when Dave Mlicki defeated Andy Pettitte, to 2003, when Brandon Claussen took out Tom Glavine, to 2008, when Sidney Ponson got the best of Pedro Martinez, the underdog has come through time after time during this saga.

Kuroda has better credentials than Mlicki, Claussen and Ponson. Now, though, Kuroda is turning into the starter the Yankees thought they signed for $10 million this past offseason. And it might not be just because he saw a National League lineup, either.

After seesawing between one good start and one bad start, Kuroda now has three straight starts on the positive side, in which he has gone 2-0 with a 0.81 ERA.

"I think he took it as a huge responsibility when he came here," Girardi said. "What he was representing. I think he took much pressure on [himself]. He got through some things. He relaxed a little bit. That is not unusual for players who come over here."

Kuroda doesn't necessarily buy Girardi's theory. Through his translator, he said he "always feels the pressure, no matter what type of game I throw."

After his slow start, Kuroda has become more consistent with his pitches. His sinker led the way Friday night as Kuroda flirted with the first no-hitter of his life.

In 2010 against the Philadelphia Phillies, Kuroda pitched 7 2/3 innings of one-hit ball. In 2008, he had a no-hitter going into the eighth before a guy who is now his teammate led off.

"Teixeira ruined it," Kuroda said.

Mark Teixeira, then an Atlanta Brave, doubled -- just like Quintanilla -- to mess up Kuroda's chance at holding a team hitless.

History would have been nice Friday, but the Yankees are just happy to see Kuroda continue going in the right direction. He is now 5-6 on the year, and his ERA is all the way down to 3.46.

"It is the best I've ever seen him pitch," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

The Yankees are seeing a lot of these types of starts these days, from Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Starters not named CC Sabathia are finally stepping up on the mound.

"It seems like our pitchers are like, 'Hey, I'm going to go out and do this, what can you do?'" Nick Swisher said.

What Kuroda did Friday was what the Yankees expected him to do all along.

"He pitched," Girardi said. "When we talked about Hiroki when we got him, that's what we expected. We said, 'This guy knows how to pitch,' and that is what he did today."

And he did it better than Santana.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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