Superb Kuroda leads Yanks in Bronx opener
With 630th career homer, A-Rod ties Griffey for fifth on all-time list
NEW YORK -- The nerves were long gone from Hiroki Kuroda's system as he walked off the mound at a sold-out Yankee Stadium, awash in the applause of an appreciative crowd that witnessed his stellar performance in his new club's home opener.
Baseball tends to hold value in first impressions, and there was no doubt that Kuroda made a good one debuting in pinstripes. The right-hander earned that standing ovation, leading New York to a 5-0 victory on a beautiful Friday afternoon in the Bronx.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," Kuroda said through a translator. "I would like to repeat it as much as I can this season."
Kuroda blanked the Angels over eight-plus frames, scattering five hits in the bunting-laced Cathedral, before David Robertson recorded the last three outs to preserve Kuroda's first victory in pinstripes.
"It was exactly what you'd want," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "Hiro did an outstanding job against a team that puts a lot of pressure on defenses and swings the bats. He's the story of the game. He shut down a very good team."
Nick Swisher belted a key three-run triple in the first inning off Halos starter Ervin Santana, while Alex Rodriguez tied Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth place on baseball's all-time list with the 630th home run of his career in the fourth inning.
Curtis Granderson also hit a fifth-inning homer for New York, which has won 14 of its last 15 home openers, including three of four since this incarnation of Yankee Stadium opened in 2009.
"You get an early lead, your starter gets you into the ninth inning -- it's pretty good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You know that if your pitcher doesn't give up any runs, you're going to come out victorious. I don't think it gets any better."
Kuroda had mentioned some jitters coming into his home debut, but those evaporated as the 37-year-old veteran showcased better command of his curveball and splitter than he had in his first start, on Saturday at Tropicana Field, keeping Albert Pujols and the Angels off balance.
"This was obviously my first time to pitch at Yankee Stadium, and I was a little bit nervous," Kuroda said. "But I'm always a little bit nervous, no matter if it's the opening series or during the season. I always have that kind of nerves before I pitch. I try to have the same approach, no matter where I pitch or when I pitch. I was able to pitch with confidence today."
The Halos' final hit off Kuroda came on Bobby Abreu's soft infield single, the hurler's 109th pitch, as Girardi offered a crack at a complete game. That was pretty much the norm, as Kuroda walked two and struck out six in the performance.
"Today was a good day for him," catcher Russell Martin said of Kuroda. "He had all of his pitches working for him. It's not going to happen every day, but days when you feel like you have everything, this is the outcome that we expect."
Santana was "bringing fuzz" in the first inning, according to Swisher, who lauded the right-hander's mid-90s heat. But two walks and a single loaded the bases and Swisher cleared them, lacing a three-run double to right-center field.
"I was fired up -- there is no doubt I was fired up," Swisher said. "To be able to go up, 3-0, in the bottom of the first inning definitely puts a little momentum on our side."
Kuroda appreciated the run support, and Rodriguez laced a Santana offering into the netting covering Monument Park in center field to put the Yankees up by four in the third. Granderson torched a line-drive homer into the right-field seats in the fifth, the center fielder's second of the season.
The production came on a day when Girardi shuffled his lineup, bumping Rodriguez out of the cleanup spot in favor of Robinson Cano, with the intent of making it more difficult to match up against lefty relievers. The formula seemed to work through eight innings of use.
"I've hit third in my career plenty," Rodriguez said. "It doesn't really matter where you hit in the lineup. For me, it's just a matter of coming out and trying to help the team win."
In typical Yankees fashion, the home opener began with a touching ceremony, this time including five-time World Series champion Jorge Posada.
The recently retired catcher and designated hitter was ringed at the mound by his son, Jorge Luis Posada Jr., and former teammates as he tossed the game's first pitch to his father, Jorge Posada Sr., with memories of frustration between the "Core Four" member and the organization continuing to fade into the backdrop.
"I could tell that he really enjoyed it," Jeter said. "The fans gave him a warm reception. It's something that he's going to appreciate for quite some time. It was special for his dad to catch the first pitch."
That seems to be how it works; the ending isn't nearly as important as the good times. Kuroda's tenure in the Bronx won't be nearly as long as Posada's -- in fact, it might last just this season -- but he already has at least one signature moment.
"I could not have been more happy for him, more proud of him," Swisher said of Kuroda. "I thought he did a pretty good job his first time out for us, but to be able to come back out and pitch the way that he did today -- New York people had better recognize, man, because he did a tremendous job. I'm glad he's on our side."