CLEVELAND -- Hiroki Kuroda's night started dreadfully, but he turned it around.
That was not the case for the offense, though.
And make no mistake, the offense was the primary culprit Saturday night in the Yankees' 3-1 loss to the Indians (who had lost nine straight and 22 of 26) in front of 34,374 at Progressive Field.
Kuroda (12-9) allowed only four hits in eight innings, but one of them was a three-run homer by Michael Brantley with two outs in the first inning. He finished up with seven scoreless innings, but it wasn't enough.
"He pitched a great game other than that one pitch,'' catcher Russell Martin said.
Kuroda hit Jason Kipnis to begin the bottom of the first and walked Shin-Soo Choo with one out before striking out Carlos Santana. Then Brantley homered on the first pitch to him, a 93-mph fastball. Said Kuroda, "I tried to hit the outside corner and it just ran over.''
"I didn't think he had his good slider most of the night, but he found a way to get people out, and I commend him for that,'' Joe Girardi said. "He just knows how to pitch.''
Entering Saturday night, Kuroda had been supported with an average of only 4.15 runs per game, but had the Yankees managed that, he would have been a winner.
They left nine on base and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees (who remained 31/2 games ahead of the Rays) stranded runners on second and third in the fifth against Justin Masterson (10-11) and left the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh before Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez (33rd save) finished with two perfect innings.
"We didn't get the big hit today, but between Masterson and the two relievers they threw out there, it's tough,'' said Mark Teixeira, who drove in the only run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth. "Their eighth- and ninth-inning guys are two of the best in baseball as well. It was one of those tough games.''
With one out in the fifth, Eric Chavez and Martin singled and Raul Ibañez's grounder put runners on second and third. But Ichiro Suzuki flied to deep center for the third out.
The Yankees loaded the bases against Masterson with none out in the sixth on a single by Derek Jeter, a walk to Nick Swisher and a single by Robinson Cano. Teixeira's sacrifice fly to deep center made it 3-1 and put runners on second and third before Curtis Granderson walked to re-load the bases. But Chavez lined out to third baseman Jack Hannahan and Choo was able to track down Martin's drive to the warning track in rightfield.
"His fastball's just got so much movement on it,'' Girardi said of Masterson. "He started to get the ball up a little bit and we put some good at-bats on him. You get the bases loaded and Chavy hits a bullet to the third baseman and Russell hits a long fly ball to rightfield, and that's the difference.''
With two outs in the seventh, Jeter and Swisher singled to knock out Masterson. Pestano, who has a 1.79 ERA in 55 appearances, walked Cano to load the bases for Teixeira, who broke his bat on a pop-out to third that ended the inning.
Did he get a good pitch to hit? "No, unfortunately,'' Teixeira said with a weary smile. "Pestano's got dirty stuff. You don't want to throw out a Mariano [Rivera] comparison, but with that cutter, that's a really tough cutter. He throws it hard; he throws it from a sidearm angle which is really tough to see. And his numbers show it.''
Kuroda retired eight straight after walking Lou Marson with one out in the second, a streak Marson snapped in the fifth with a leadoff double. But Kipnis whiffed on a bunt attempt and Martin fired to Jeter to pick off Marson. Kuroda coasted from there.
"Other than the first inning, Hiro was amazing, really the way he's been all year,'' Teixeira said. "So it's tough when we can't get him any runs.''