CLEVELAND -- There have got to be times when Hiroki Kuroda finds it necessary to look in the clubhouse mirror after a game to double-check what it says on his uniform shirt.
Because if he didn't know better, Kuroda might be tempted to think he was still a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers -- the pre-Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Josh Beckett L.A. Dodgers -- rather than the New York Yankees.
In four seasons with the Dodgers, Kuroda had quite the pedestrian won-loss record -- 41-46 -- and quite the creditable ERA (3.45). The problem was, his team could neither hit nor score runs for him.
So now he's with the Yankees, also known as the Bronx Bombers, and once again he has a rather pedestrian won-loss record -- 12-9 -- but a superior ERA, 2.98, despite pitching in a league known for big-hitting, high-scoring teams.
But for Kuroda, it's déjà vu all over again. Once again, his team can neither hit nor score, at least when he is on the mound.
Saturday night, Kuroda pitched a complete game against the Cleveland Indians, allowed just four hits and threw a tidy 108 pitches, all but one of them ranging from good to super-nasty -- and came out with a loss.
On the surface, the loss was his fault -- that one bad pitch was to Michael Brantley in the first inning, a sinker that didn't sink until it had sailed well beyond the right-centerfield fence, a three-run homer that accounted for all the Cleveland runs in a 3-1 loss, the Yankees' fourth loss in five games on this road trip.
But once again, Kuroda was victimized by the kind of non-support that would win him millions in a court of law but brings him nothing but defeat on the baseball field.
"Obviously those games, I have been in several times in my career," Kuroda said. "But I try to focus on whatever I can do and whatever I can control, and go from there."
"Is it really that easy?" he was asked. "Well, I try to convince myself," he said, with a small smile that could only be described as rueful.
It was the ninth time in 26 starts that the Yankees scored two runs or less for Kuroda, and even if this one wasn't entirely their fault -- Cleveland starter Justin Masterson was nasty and the Yankees hit into terrible luck with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth -- things were not supposed to be this way when Kuroda signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Yankees this winter.
But for some reason, on most of the nights Kuroda pitches, the Yankee bats go cold, and there are numbers to prove it. He gets by far the lowest run support of any Yankee starter -- CC Sabathia leads the way with 5.9 runs per start, followed by Freddy Garcia (5.43), Ivan Nova (5.00) and Phil Hughes (4.96). Then comes Kuroda with a puny 3.69 runs per game, barely enough to work with on most nights in the American League.
"You always want to reward a pitcher for pitching well and other than the first inning, Hiro was amazing, the way he's really been all year," Mark Teixeira said. "It's tough when we can't get him any runs."
Teixeira's at-bat in the seventh inning was maybe the most frustrating of the night, when, with bases loaded, two out and the Yankees trailing by two, reliever Vinnie Pestano jammed him with a cutter that sawed off his bat and became a harmless pop-up to third base.
But that AB had competition an inning earlier when the Yankees loaded the bases twice and came away with just one run, on Teixeira's sacrifice fly. But the golden opportunity was lost when Eric Chavez hit the ball right on the button -- and right into the glove of third baseman Jack Hannahan -- followed by Russell Martin giving one a ride that Shin-Soo Choo pulled down with a running, over-the-head catch in deep right field.
"I think our guys had pretty good at-bats," Joe Girardi said, "But we weren't able to get that hit tonight.""
It's tough to find fault with either of those at-bats, but it's easy to look at the way the Yankees have hit all season long for Kuroda without feeling sympathy for him. And it's even easier to remember Girardi saying similar things after a half-dozen other Kuroda starts this season.
In reality, Kuroda's 12 wins could easy have been 16 or even 18, and his nine losses could have been as few as four or five. It makes you re-think the whole criteria for the Cy Young Award, which very often has been based more on a pitcher's won-loss record than overall effectiveness, Felix Hernandez's 2010 award after a 13-12 season notwithstanding.
And it makes you appreciate how much better Kuroda has been this season than his record shows; after a slow start in which he went 4-6 with a 3.96 ERA through April and May, he has settled in to drop his ERA by nearly 1.5 runs, to 2.64, and has won 8 of 11 decisions.
And watching him pitch these past three months, can there be any doubt that his 12-9 season (so far) has been better than Nova's 16-4 campaign last year and Hughes' 18-8 two years ago?
"He just knows how to pitch, and that's what I've said about him all along," Girardi said. "I didn't think he really had his good stuff most of the night, but he found a way to get people out."
Kuroda has found a way to get people out pretty much all season long. Too bad his teammates can't figure out a way to get people home on the nights he pitches.