When the Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda this offseason, he was seen as a bit of veteran insurance against young pitchers Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda.
If all went well for the Yankees, Kuroda would have been an above-average fourth or fifth starter at the back of one of the league's best rotations. All hasn't gone well, though.
Injury knocked Pineda out before the season, Nova has been erratic, Freddy Garcia got pasted in April, Andy Pettitte returned only to leave again with an injury and CC Sabathia has made two trips to the disabled list. And that means Kuroda has gone from insurance to necessity to dark horse Cy Young candidate.
Kuroda gave up one run in eight innings in Sunday night's 4-1 win over the Red Sox, lowering his ERA to 2.96 for the season and he is now 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA since the All-Star break. Those numbers aren't quite enough to put him into prime consideration for the award over the likes of Jered Weaver or Felix Hernandez, but he's not far outside the inner circle and a continuation of his recent work is going to leave him with a heck of a case when all is said and done.
It's been a season-changing development for the Yankees, who would be fighting much more tooth and nail at this point if Kuroda was putting forth the kind of effort expected of him in March. Insurance has turned into assurance in the Yankee rotation, something that's happened elsewhere instead.
Ichiro Suzuki came here as a faded star filling out a bench role with the skills lost when Brett Gardner left with an injury. Brett Gardner never golfed two home runs into the right field seats off Josh Beckett, though, and Ichiro looks to be the stereotypical veteran inspired enough by his new surroundings to recapture some of what he was missing in Seattle.
Rafael Soriano closed out Sunday night against the Red Sox, the latest in a long line of saves since Mariano Rivera got hurt and made people wonder whether or not the Yankees could survive the absence of the man that always set them apart from the rest of baseball. Soriano hasn't just survived, he's thrived in near-Rivera fashion and the Yankees haven't missed a beat as a result.
It goes on and on as Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix and the resurrected Freddy Garcia have all been big contributors to the team this season. There are plenty of flashy gadgets on the Yankee dashboard, but the lowliest spark plugs have been the key to holding the Yankee season together.
It hasn't been all cashing in insurance policies, of course. Derek Jeter had three more hits on Sunday night to add to his league-leading total and raise the chances that he can actually make a run at Pete Rose's hit record.
If he does, he'll be in his 40's when he gets there and the Yankees will need a caddy of sorts to help him get through an entire season. Based on this year, there's a decent chance they'll find a really good one.