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Hiroki Kuroda has had a few strong starts go nowhere this season because the offense couldn't generate much of anything in support of his efforts.
For the first six-plus innings of Tuesday night's game against the Rangers, it looked like he might suffer the same fate. Matt Harrison was shutting down the Yankees, wiggling out of a bases loaded jam in one inning and slamming the door on the bats one way or another in every other inning he'd pitched.
Kuroda was doing even better, no-hitting the Rangers through six innings before Elvis Andrus was able to beat out a grounder up the middle despite a good play by Jayson Nix. Kuroda escaped without further incident, but it still felt like he could crack against the league's best offense before the Yankees could get a run.
And that would be a shame because Kuroda's work deserved a stage like this one to fully appreciate just how much he's done for the Yankees this season. Over the last two-plus months leading into Tuesday's game, while the Yankees have watched other pitchers get hurt or struggle with consistency, Kuroda had gone 7-2 with a 2.52 ERA and gotten very little attention for it because nothing grabs fewer headlines than the routine.
Kuroda would get his attention on Tuesday night. Harrison left the game with one out in the seventh because he'd thrown 106 pitches and the Yankees finally cracked the scoreboard against Alexi Ogando.
Ogando throws extremely hard, but he kept the ball straight and up in the zone on Tuesday night. Nick Swisher hit a two-run homer on just such a pitch, making it two straight nights with a key homer, and Mark Teixeira followed with another bomb to make the score 3-0.
Thanks to Kuroda, it would stay that way. He went the distance for his first Yankee shutout and allowed just one more weak hit before closing the door on the Rangers for good.
So the Yankees had a second straight win against the other team at the top of the American League. It's hard to imagine two games going much better in terms of setting the stage for a potential October rematch.
The Yankees beat the Rangers' big trade acquisition on Monday night while going with David Phelps and Derek Lowe for their own pitching needs.Tuesday brought Kuroda and a win over the best Rangers pitcher this season because the Yankees were able to wait him out long enough to get into the bullpen.
If that seems familiar, it is because you've watched the Yankees demoralize a pitching staff that way once or twice in past playoff runs. It's textbook stuff, which can't be said for the way Kuroda has been shutting teams down while pitching in an unforgiving park for pitchers.
Whatever adjustment period Kuroda went through in April and May is proving to be worth it because he looks as good as any pitcher in the game right now. It's a nice time for that to happen and Tuesday was a particularly good night for Kuroda to make his most emphatic illustration of that to date.