It was overshadowed by the futility of the Yankees offense, but Hiroki Kuroda's performance in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series was one to remember. Working on three days' rest for the first time in his five-year major league career, Kuroda allowed just three runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings, though the Tigers won, 3-0.
It was the best outing by a starting pitcher working on less than full rest in the playoffs since his now-rotation mate CC Sabathia held the Angels to one run over eight inning on the same amount of rest in the 2009 ALCS. While rare during the regular season, pitching on short rest is more common -- and more crucial -- in the postseason and has already had an impact this October on the outcome of games and how team's schedule their rotations.
Kuroda was pressed into early service because of a unique playoff schedule that forced the Yankees to play five games in five days. Nevertheless, he had a perfect game through five innings and didn't walk a batter all day. He also notched 11 strikeouts, which tied for fifth place among starting pitchers working on short rest in the playoffs in the wild-card era, and third-best if the list is limited to pitchers working on short rest after another full-length start. The only two men ahead of Kuroda on the latter list are Randy Johnson, who struck out 13 on three days' rest in Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS against the Orioles, and Charles Nagy, who struck out 12 on three days' rest, coincidentally in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Orioles the year before.
Kuroda's Game Score -- a stat invented by Bill James to weigh just how good a pitcher's performance was -- on Sunday was 68, which surpassed that of both Johnson (67) and Nagy (62) and was the highest by a pitcher working on short rest in the playoffs since Sabathia's 71 in the 2009 ALCS. Prior to Sabathia, the last pitcher to pitch on short rest and compile a Game Score equal to or better than Kuroda's on Sunday was another current teammate, Derek Lowe, who posted a 68 while pitching for the Red Sox in the decisive Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS which completed Boston's unprecedented, and thus far unequaled, comeback from an 0-3 series deficit.
As for the other pitchers to equal or surpass Kuroda's 11 strikeouts while working on short rest in the playoffs in the wild-card era, one was Justin Verlander, who struck out 11 Yankees on two days' rest in Game 3 of last year's ALDS, but did so after pitching just one inning in a rain-interrupted start in Game 1. The other was Livan Hernandez, whose infamous 15-strikeout performance for the Marlins in Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS came with on just one day of rest after a 22-pitch relief outing. Of course, Hernandez had some help from home plate umpire Eric Gregg, who spent most of the game calling pitches in the righthanded batters box strikes. Six of Hernandez's strikeouts came on called third strikes, and 42 percent of the strikes he threw in the game were called by Gregg.
However ill-gotten it might have been, Hernandez's Game Score of 90 that day ranks as the top short-rest game score in the postseason in the wild-card era. In second place is Mike Mussina's Game 6 start in the 1997 ALCS against the Indians. Mussina, then with Baltimore, allowed just one run and two walks in eight scoreless innings, striking out 10, good for a Game Score of 88. Amazingly, neither he nor the Orioles won the game. Nagy and four relievers held Baltimore scoreless for 11 innings and the powerful Indians won the game via a solo home run by the light-hitting Tony Fernandez.
Yet another of Kuroda's current teammates, Andy Pettitte, holds the record for most postseason starts on short rest in the wild-card era. Pettitte, the all-time leader in postseason starts overall, has made six on three days' rest, going 4-1 with a 3.07 ERA, though only one of those -- his 5 2/3-inning win in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series -- has come in the last nine years. Pettitte's best short-rest postseason start was Game 2 of the 2003 World Series, when he allowed just one unearned run in 8 2/3 innings, walked one and struck out seven.
Besides Kuroda, the only other pitcher to start on short rest thus far this postseason is the Cardinals' Lance Lynn, who started Game 1 of the NLCS on two day's rest after a one-batter, 13-pitch confrontation with Jayson Werth that resulted in a walkoff home run in Game 4 of the NLDS. Lynn's results weren't much better in his start, as he gave up four runs in 3 2/3 innings, but he avoided the longball and the Cardinals pulled out the win, 6-4.
If the Yankees manage to push the ALCS against the Tigers to seven games, an extremely unlikely outcome, they'll have one of the best short-rest starters in the game today in Sabathia to face a fully-rested Justin Verlander. Sabathia is 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA in six career starts on three days' rest, two of them coming in the 2009 postseason.
A far more likely short-rest starter is Tim Lincecum, who is a good bet to start Game 4 of the NLCS for the Giants on three days' rest after a 24-pitch relief outing in Game 1. The only previous start of Lincecum's career to come on anything less than full rest was Game 1 of the 2010 World Series, which he pitched on with three days off following a 16-pitch relief outing in Game 6 of the NLCS. That was his Lincecum's worst start of that postseason. He gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings to the Rangers and struck out just three, though the Giants still pulled out the win by beating up on Cliff Lee, who had the opposite problem of Lincecum. Lee started that game with eight days of rest, illustrating once again that sometimes too much rest can be as problematic as too little.