NEW YORK (AP) — Hiroki Kuroda and the New York Yankees blocked off the Baltimore Orioles once again.
Kuroda pitched seven neat innings and teamed with catcher Russell Martin to nab Nick Markakis at the plate in the key play of the game, lifting the Yankees over Baltimore 2-1 Monday night.
Eric Chavez hit an early two-run homer and New York made several sparkling plays in the field, including two by novice left fielder Eduardo Nunez.
But the top gem came on Kuroda’s final pitch.
“It came out right,” Kuroda said through a translator.
Down 2-1 in the seventh, the Orioles used a single, a hit batter and wild pitch to put runners on second and third with two outs. Kuroda bounced a splitter in the dirt and Martin blocked it, with the ball skittering toward Baltimore’s dugout on the third base side.
Markakis broke for the plate, aiming to score the tying run.
“You don’t really have time to think about much,” Martin said. “It’s just reaction.”
Martin quickly recovered and made a backhand flip to Kuroda, who planted his right foot directly in the runner’s path. Markakis had to reach around Kuroda’s leg, and the pitcher’s perfect fundamentals gave him time to make the tag as the Baltimore star tumbled into him.
“I was convinced I was going to get an out if I had a good throw from Russell,” Kuroda said.
Kuroda and Martin met on the mound during the shaky seventh, going over their plans. It was familiar territory for them — they were teammates on the Los Angeles Dodgers for three seasons.
“We had our one opportunity there and couldn’t push that run across,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Nicky made a good aggressive play and they made a heck of a play to get him.”
“They have to make a great play to get him out. I would be upset if he wasn’t aggressive and trying to do something there in a close ballgame like that. Usually, the aggressor wins,” he said.
The Yankees improved 4-0 against the Orioles this year, 43-15 over the O’s since 2009 and have not lost any of the last 14 season series to them.
The loss denied Showalter his 1,000th win as a big league manager — his first victory came in 1992 next door at the old Yankee Stadium. Baltimore lost for the second time in eight games.
Kuroda (2-3) allowed one run and four hits while outpitching steady Jason Hammel (3-1).
David Robertson struck out the side in the eighth for the Yankees and Mariano Rivera closed for his fifth save in six chances. A day after Baltimore rallied for five runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Oakland, there was no comeback against the New York bullpen.
Chavez put New York ahead with his third homer, a drive into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center field in the second.
With Nick Swisher hobbling and fellow outfielder Brett Gardner injured, Nunez got his first big league start in left field. He wound up catching five flyballs, matching the most by any Yankees outfielder this season.
Nunez caught Nolan Reimold’s leadoff liner, slid on his knees to pluck Markakis’ liner to end the first and grabbed Chris Davis’ sacrifice fly at the wall in the second. Before the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi joked that even when he tried Nunez in the outfield during spring training, no balls were hit his way.
“So much for not getting any balls,” Girardi kidded after the game. “He was tested with some tough balls and he did an outstanding job.”
Nunez, who had four different gloves stuffed in his locker, called it a “fun” experience.
“I enjoyed it,” he said.
NOTES: Swisher is expected to miss a week with a strained left hamstring. … Orioles slugger Mark Reynolds went 0 for 3. He has not homered in 63 at-bats this year — this is his first April without a home run. … Reimold’s 14-game hitting streak ended. … Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte gave up six runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings vs. the Phillies in an extended spring training game. He struck out eight, walked none and threw 96 pitches. … Six current MLB managers already have at least 1,000 wins: Dusty Baker, Bruce Bochy, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia and Bobby Valentine.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)