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Kuroda looks to outduel Gonzalez in Game 3

Deadlocked series now a best two-out-of-three set in the Bronx
10/10/2012 12:55 AM ET
By Joe Auriemma

Hiroki Kuroda takes the ball for the Yankees in Wednesday's Game 3.(AP)
The ALDS shifts back to the Bronx for a best two-out-of-three series after the teams split the first two games in Baltimore. The one thing that everyone saw in the first two contests was two evenly-matched ballclubs that have now won 10 games apiece against each other in 2012.

Both the Yankees and Orioles have had their troubles with stranding runners throughout the entire season, and that hasn't changed in this short series. However, these teams did rank first and second, respectively, in the Major Leagues in team home runs, with the Bronx Bombers leading the way with 245.

The one thing that has been evident in the first two games is that both Buck Showalter's O's and Joe Girardi's Yanks have come to pitch. The starters have been phenomenal to present and the intriguing Game 3 matchup shouldn't change that trend.

The Yankees are going to send to the hill 16-game winner, and at certain points in the season the best pitcher on the team, Hiroki Kuroda. He has had a wonderful 2012 first-year campaign in New York. Kuroda proved to be a workhorse by throwing a career high 219 2/3 innings and finishing with a 3.32 ERA. His impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio with 167 strikeouts and 51 walks combined with his 1.165 WHIP, the eighth-lowest in the American League, showed just how dominant he was at times for the Yankees.

Kuroda did have a rough patch at the end of the season, and in a five-start stretch from August 31 to September 23 he had a 5.29 ERA, gave up six home runs and opponents hit .278 against him. There was talk of fatigue, as his arm had never been taxed in his entire Major League career with as many innings as he's thrown this season. He did wind up winning his final two starts of the season and looked to bounce back quite nicely. Even with that being said, this extra time off in between the final start of the season and Game 3 of the division series may be very helpful to Kuroda.

“We've seen he's been pretty good on extra rest the times he's went on his sixth day,” Girardi said. “I know it's his seventh day, but we feel with the innings that he's logged, that this will be beneficial for him. When you look at his statistics, this is the most innings he's thrown in a long time. So I think it will be beneficial.”

Girardi has been known to go to his binder from time to time and look at the numbers to make certain decisions. One decision that may have certainly been based on numbers is the one that led to Kuroda starting Game 3 instead of Game 2. Kuroda has been lights out at Yankee Stadium in 2012, but the numbers are glaringly different when he is on the road. It may just be a comfort zone for him to pitch in his own park, but whatever the case may be, his numbers are staggeringly different pitching at Yankee Stadium as opposed to on the road.

At home this season, Kuroda is 11-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 19 starts at the big ballpark in the Bronx. He has 101 strikeouts and 28 walks in 132 1/3 innings pitched, and opponents are hitting just .219 against him in New York. A pretty crazy thought when you think of Yankee Stadium as being a hitter-friendly ballpark. On the road in 2012, Hiroki is 5-5 with a 4.23 ERA in 14 starts, while striking out 66 and walking 23 in 87.1 innings of work. The home opponents are hitting .292 against Kuroda.

“He seems to do very well in our ballpark,” Girardi said of Kuroda. “He seems to know how to pitch to our ballpark, and that could have something to do with it. But he's been very good at home. It's one of the reasons that we talked about him pitching at home. Plus we thought the extra rest would really help him, the couple days, instead of him having to go on his fifth day again. But let's hope it holds true again tomorrow.”

It may just be coincidence, but the numbers don't lie, which is why we may be seeing Kuroda on the mound in a series tied at one in a pivotal Game 3 situation. Hiroki, even though he thought some of it had to do with luck, had a different take on why he thought he might be a better pitcher at home.

“I think one of the biggest things is the fans,” Kuroda said through his interpreter, Kenji Nimura. “They really motivate me during the game.”

In case you're wondering, Kuroda is 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA against the Orioles in two starts, with his only loss coming at the hands of Miguel Gonzalez on August 31 in, you guessed it, Yankee Stadium. Kuroda did go 8 1/3 innings in that game, but he still went down in defeat to a pitcher who dominated the Yankees in his two starts against them in 2012. Gonzalez, the Orioles’ Game 3 starter, had quite the rookie campaign and is certainly one of the reasons the Orioles wound up with 93 wins. He seemed to get stronger down the stretch, as he won his last three contests of the season, sporting a miniscule 1.83 ERA in his final 19 2/3 innings of the season. In fact, opponents were just hitting .194 against him in that span.

As mentioned previously, Gonzalez put a spell on the New York Yankees lineup in his two starts. He also didn't seem to mind the big stage, because both of those starts and wins came at Yankee Stadium. Now the postseason is another beast entirely, but he did prove that he could handle the pressure of facing a deep lineup like the Yankees in their home park. The rookie had a 2.63 ERA in 13 2/3 innings against them, while striking out 17 of the 51 batters he faced. The Yankees only managed to rustle up 10 hits against him for a .196 batting average. Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira combined to go 0-for-21 with 12 strikeouts against Gonzalez.

On the other side of the coin, Showalter may have wanted to save his Gonzalez bullet for Game 3 on the road. The young talent was 6-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 11 starts away from Camden Yards.

This really could be the matchup of the series. The Yankees desperately need their bats to wake up at home going up against one of the Orioles’ up-and-comers, while Baltimore looks not to go down a game in a series in which they would have to win the final two games in the Bronx.

Game 3 will most likely be a nailbiter again, so hang on to your seats, enjoy the ride and expect another great starting pitching matchup to dominate the action.

Follow Joe Auriemma on Twitter: @JoeAuriemmaYES
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