Kuroda pitches Yankees to 2-1 win over Orioles

Hiroki Kuroda pitches against the Baltimore Orioles. (April

Hiroki Kuroda pitches against the Baltimore Orioles. (April 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Coming into this season, if the Yankees had to draw a blueprint of a successful year or even one successful night, they probably would not have begun with the idea of having Eduardo Nuñez starting in leftfield or seeing Hiroki Kuroda risking his shins by making a sprinting tag at the plate.

That just goes to show that funny things happen during the serious business of trying to win a pennant. The Yankees were able to smile after their 2-1 win over the Orioles at the Stadium, knowing that they had just the right people in the right places at the right time.

Or as Nuñez put it -- after saying before the game that the hardest part of playing the outfield is having a ball hit right at you, only to have the very first batter hit one right at him -- "Whew."

Nuñez, a natural infielder who was moved to left because Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher are injured, was flawless in handling five chances. Only one of them was easy, Joe Girardi said, adding: "He did an outstanding job."

The Yankees were just as laudatory about Kuroda (2-3), whose pattern suggested he was due for a clunker against the resurgent Orioles, who entered the game tied for first place in the AL East and were going for manager Buck Showalter's 1,000th career win. The pitcher had alternated bad starts and good starts, but he had another good one, allowing only four hits in seven innings.

He was given a 2-1 lead in the second on a two-run homer by Eric Chavez against Baltimore's de facto ace, Jason Hammel. And he held on to it, hanging on for dear life in the seventh.

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The Orioles had runners on second and third with one out, but Kuroda struck out Chris Davis and tagged out Nick Markakis when he tried to score on a pitch that bounded away from Russell Martin. Kuroda raced to the plate, took the flip like a halfback on an option pass and made the tag.

"Russ is about as quick a catcher as there is in the league and he jumped on it right away. Hiroki really jumped off the mound," said Chavez, who was playing third. "I really didn't think that ball was far enough away for him to run. But it's one of those bang-bang plays and everybody did what they had to do."

Said Markakis, "I had a decent lead off third. The ball just didn't go as far as I wanted it to. It's not like we had 10 or 12 hits.''

Credit Kuroda's sinker and splitter for that, even though he didn't think he was so great. "I wouldn't give myself a good grade," the pitcher said through an interpreter after David Robertson (three strikeouts) and Mariano Rivera each pitched a scoreless inning. "I was really lucky with the pitches I made. I had good defense behind me."

A tip of the cap to Nuñez, who, to put it politely, has had some struggles as an infielder. But with Derek Jeter (1-for-4) looking rejuvenated at shortstop, there is a possibility that Nunez has a future as an outfielder.

If that happens, he can look back at his first career start in left. He made a leaping catch at the wall in the second and a tumbling catch on a knuckleball-like liner in the third.

"It didn't look nice, but he made the play. He made a couple nice plays out there," Martin said.

Yankees on the bench and Nuñez were seen laughing after the catch in the third. "Andruw [Jones] said, 'Stay humble,' " Nunez said of his fielding mentor.

Jones loved it. "That's Noonie," he said. "He talks funny, he catches funny. He does everything funny. He's just a funny guy."

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