Kuroda survives very slim margin for error

You look at the record – 11-7 – and it does not appear overwhelming. Yet that is just what Hiroki Kuroda has been for the Yankees this season.

In a year when CC Sabathia has struggled to maintain his status as staff ace, Kuroda has taken the baton and given the Yankees ace-like quality for much of the season. Had run support been more plentiful in Kuroda’s starts, he might have five or six more victories.

Even Monday night when he pitched an absolute gem, Kuroda had slim margin for error as the Yankees managed only two runs off Angels starter Garrett Richards. That skinny margin nearly cost Kuroda another winning decision in this game when Los Angeles rallied in the ninth inning only to fall one run short.

Kuroda shut out the Angels on three hits in eight innings to lower his season ERA to 2.33, which ranks second in the American League only to the 2.28 of the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez. Over his past seven starts covering 48 innings, Kuroda’s ERA is a microscopic 0.94. He is 4-1 in that stretch.

Josh Hamilton opened the second inning with a double to right-center, but he never got beyond second base as Kuroda retired the next nine batters in a row. A leadoff walk to Eric Aybar ended that run of outs but Kuroda ran off six more before Mike Trout beat out an infield single to start the seventh. Kuroda quickly erased him by getting Hamilton to ground into a double play. The other hit off Kuroda was a two-out double in the eighth by catcher Chris Iannetta, who was also stranded.

Brett Gardner, the hero of Sunday’s walk-off victory over the Tigers, was productive again with a two-out, RBI single in the third. It stayed a 1-0 game until the seventh when Curtis Granderson homered into the second deck in right field. That likely created a sense of déjà vu for Richards. He was the first pitcher to make his major-league debut at the current Yankee Stadium Aug. 10, 2011 and gave up six runs and six hits in five innings of a 9-3 Yankees victory. Two of the hits off Richards in that game were home runs by Granderson.

Granderson’s third home run of this season proved pivotal when the Angels came alive after Kuroda left the game. Boone Logan started the ninth and gave up a hit and got a strikeout. At the same time, Yankees fans in the Stadium crowd of 37,146 chanted “We want Mo,” a good sign of their allegiance to Mariano Rivera despite his having blown three straight save opportunities.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi wanted to stay away from Mo in this one and brought in David Robertson, who got into immediate trouble by walking Mike Trout and giving up a bloop double down the left field line that made the score 2-1. It forced the Yanks to walk Aybar intentionally to load the bases and set up a force at each. Robertson bore down hard for his first save with impressive strikeouts of Mike Trout and Chris Nelson.

In a way, it was a view into the future. A year from now when Rivera is retired and enjoying his life with his family, Robertson just may be the guy called on regularly to get those last important outs.

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