The highest innings total of Kuroda's career caught up with him after he had spent the summer months as New York's most consistent starter, taking the mound every five days while CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte spent time on the disabled list. So Kuroda stopped throwing bullpen sessions between starts in late September, and when manager Joe Girardi decided on his postseason rotation, he gave Kuroda two extra days of rest, slotting him in third behind Pettitte, who started a 3-2 loss in Game 2 on Monday.
The results showed, as Kuroda delivered his longest outing since Aug. 31, also against the Orioles, in pitching 8 1/3 innings of two-run ball. He remained on the hook for a loss, though, until Raul Ibanez forced extra innings and secured a walk-off victory with a pair of solo homers.
"[Kuroda] was outstanding," Girardi said, "and the extra rest helped him."
A pair of Baltimore home runs tarnished Kuroda's stats line, as Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado each took him deep, collecting two of the five hits Kuroda allowed. But of Kuroda's 105 pitches, Girardi believes the right-hander's slider up in the zone for Machado's blast into the Baltimore bullpen in left-center field was the only mistake.
"That's pretty amazing, seeing that he threw over 100 pitches," Girardi said.
It was arguably the best start of Kuroda's postseason career, with his three prior playoff appearances coming with the Dodgers. Kuroda went 2-0 and allowed two runs over 12 1/3 innings in 2008, but his last postseason start ended after he had allowed the Phillies six runs in only 1 1/3 innings during the 2009 National League Championship Series.
On Wednesday, Kuroda turned the ball over to the bullpen with one out in the ninth and the game in reach, having struck out three batters and walked one.
A tired Kuroda struggled in the key starts amid a September pennant race for the Yankees, but he finally looked more like his summer self in his final start of the regular season. The right-hander allowed two runs over seven innings in Game 162, when New York clinched the AL East title with a win over Boston. A full week later, he returned to form, helping the Yankees move within one game of ousting the Orioles.
"I was a little bit nervous," Kuroda said, "but overall, I felt pretty much the same way as I did during the season."