BOSTON -- There was nothing to read into Joe Girardi's decision to have Hiroki Kuroda make his first post-All-Star break start before CC Sabathia. It was simply a matter of giving each veteran pitcher his maximum rest.
Still, it was fitting.
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Without question, Kuroda was the ace of the Yankees' rotation in the season's first half -- and he very much filled that role again Saturday afternoon in the Yankees' 5-2 win over the Red Sox in front of 37,601 at Fenway Park.
"He had everything going today," Girardi said. "He's pitched that way the whole year for us. We needed a win and he comes up big."
Kuroda (9-6, 2.65) allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings. The 39-year-old ran his scoreless-innings streak to 19 before allowing two runs in the seventh, leaving the Yankees -- who were coming off another disheartening loss Friday night -- with a 4-2 lead. "Because the team lost yesterday, I was trying to make sure that I contributed to a win," Kuroda said.
This is the second straight season in which Kuroda, 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA last season, has anchored the staff. "He's throwing the ball maybe better than last year," Girardi said.
David Robertson gave up Daniel Nava's one-out single in the eighth but was aided by a tremendous play by Chris Stewart, who had an outstanding defensive game. He caught Dustin Pedroia's foul pop, leaned into the stands and still made a perfect one-hop throw to second to nail Nava, who tried to tag up.
Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth with a 5-2 cushion after Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly in the top of the inning. Rivera, who received a standing ovation from the crowd as he came in from the bullpen, allowed a one-out single but struck out Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to record his 31st save in 33 chances.
The Nava play in the eighth was the fourth out made on the basepaths, three of which occurred at the plate. Vernon Wells threw out Nava in the first inning and Stewart and Kuroda teamed to retire Mike Carp in the fifth after a pitch went off Stewart's glove.
"I take pride in all those little plays," Kuroda said of covering the plate. "And those little plays will help me out in the long run."
Said Stewart: "Kind of an unconventional day of outs today [but] we'll take it. That was a big win for us. Hopefully we get on a little bit of a roll now and get back in first place."
The Yankees trail the Red Sox by six games. Still, with the Yankees facing a rough schedule to start the second half, Saturday had an important-game feel to it.
The Yankees produced 12 hits, getting three apiece from Brett Gardner, Lyle Overbay and Eduardo Nuñez. Overbay had two doubles and an RBI single off the Green Monster, and Nuñez also doubled twice.
The Yankees broke open a close game against John Lackey (7-7, 2.95) in the seventh, scoring three runs to make it 4-0. Luis Cruz (three runs), Cano and Overbay had RBI hits in the inning.
"We got production up and down the lineup,'' Girardi said, "and that's important."
Lackey allowed four runs and 10 hits in 61/3 innings. He wasn't bad, but the hot and sticky day belonged to Kuroda.
"What was, I think, most impressive was even in that sixth and seventh inning, in these conditions, to reach back to touch 95, 96 against the meat of our lineup when he needed it, that extra velocity, he was able to get it," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's a very good pitcher. He pitched a very good game today against us.''