Yankees Postgame Notebook: Hiroki Kuroda, Robinson Cano star in a Yogi Berra-esque win
Following Brett Lawrie's solo homer to lead off the second inning, the Blue Jays had three runs on five hits (two homers) and a walk off Hiroki Kuroda…but from that point on, Kuroda was nearly untouchable. He allowed just two base runners after Lawrie's homer - one of which came on a Lyle Overbay error - and finished off his night with a strikeout of Colby Rasmus, gutting out six innings on 103 pitches and ending with both a quality start and a win.
"Early on all of my pitches weren't there, especially my sinker, but all I thought about was hang in there; pitch-by-pitch, just hang in there and I'll be able to overcome this adversity," Kuroda said through his translator after the game. "Considering how I started early on, I think I was able to put together a decent outing."
Both Jayson Nix and Vernon Wells called Kuroda a "pro" and praised his resiliency for the effort, with Wells saying that the entire Yankees staff has a knack for shutting the opposing offense down before they get too far ahead.
"That's what our starters do; when they give up runs early, they hunker down and stop teams from scoring, and hopefully we help out like tonight and score some runs," Wells said. "That's the sign of good starting pitching; you're not going to be dominant every night, but it's a matter of limiting the damage, and our guys have been doing that all year."
Manager Joe Girardi agreed, saying that Kuroda found a way to gut through six innings in what the skipper said may have been his best performance of the year.
"(Tonight) says a lot about him because he didn't really have a whole lot; he didn't have his sinker tonight and didn't have his good off-speed for the most part, and I don't think he threw a good slider until the last pitch of the third inning," Girardi said. "I thought he really had to grind it out. From a mental standpoint, he was really tough minded tonight. A lot of nights when you don't have your stuff you're going to give up more than three runs and this is an offense that we know can hit the ball out of the ballpark and he found a way."
In saying that, Girardi also praised the job of backstop Francisco Cervelli, saying a catcher's role is even more important on a night where the starting pitcher is struggling.
"A catcher can play an important role; I think their job is to try to help get (a pitcher's) stuff back and pick your spots," Girardi said. "As a catcher you have to try to get through it, try to find what is working, and then try to get the other stuff to come around."
"I think the catcher's job is never let (a pitcher) know they don't have their stuff, and just stay there, never quit, and find a way to get people out," Cervelli added, saying that as the game progressed, Kuroda "started to take a little more time and throw pitches down. I started calling a lot of breaking balls so he could get to where he could throw his best pitch, which is the two-seam fastball. I always say he's a warrior."
Other notes from Thursday's series-opening victory:
-Robinson Cano's home run in the third inning gave the Yankees the lead, and it also tied Cano with Charlie Keller for 18th place on the franchise all-time home runs list. Cano's seventh homer of the season was his third off a lefty, and Joe Girardi said Cano may be off to the best start he's ever seen him have.
"It's impressive. We've had to shuffle him around the lineup, and he's hit wherever we've put him; it took him a few days to get going and he's really taken off," Girardi said. "He's had two big three run homers that have won games for us. At this point, it says a lot about him. He's going to take what they give him."
Everyone in the locker room also had high praise for Cano, with Cervelli saying what Cano does is "never surprising" and Vernon Wells saying that Robbie "makes the game look easy."
"He's fun to watch. For most of my career he was doing it against me, but now it's fun to be on his team," Wells said. "Not only with the bat, but what he does in the field, he makes this game look so easy. I'm getting a chance to watch someone pretty special play this game."
-Nix had a solid all-around night, going 2-for-3 (including an infield single that started the third-inning rally) and making a pair of stellar defensive plays that robbed the Jays of extra-base hits.
"(I take) a ton of pride (in my defense)," Nix said. "I put a lot of work in, and to be able to go out there when I'm in there and make the big plays is very important to me."
"He's made some big plays for us, and he's consistent. He works very hard on his defense, and he understands that he has to take ground balls at a lot of different positions," Girardi added. "Right now it's just third base, but he works very hard."
Between Kevin Youkilis' injury and the slew of lefties the Yankees have faced, Nix has gotten a lot of at bats of late, and he credited that as helping him find his stroke.
"It helps a lot. The nature of this game is games on top of games and getting at-bats, so to be able to get that and get a rhythm going helps a lot."
-The controversial moment of the game came on Ben Francisco's infield single in the seventh, which was originally ruled as a 5-3 groundout but reversed after an umpire conference. Toronto manager John Gibbons argued and was summarily ejected by second base umpire Jeff Kellogg, who made the decision to overturn the call by saying Edwin Encarnacion bobbled the ball at first base, and Kellogg said that he stood by the decision.
"It's not necessarily one person's call; we get together as a crew, we talked about it as a crew, and made sure everyone else saw the same thing," Kellogg said. "We saw the ball on the ground, where the ground was assisting the ball staying in the glove."
-The bullpen had another solid night, with Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera finishing the game by retiring nine in a row after Joba allowed an infield single to open the seventh. The close-out gave Rivera his seventh save of the season in just 21 games, and Jayson Nix for one couldn't help but be impressed with how "The Sandman" has come out with a vengeance in his final season."
"It's like he hasn't skipped a beat. From what guys are saying he could keep going for a while."
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES