NEW YORK — Nothing was working for Hiroki Kuroda in the first two innings. By the time the right-hander was lifted after the sixth, he really had impressed his manager.
With Derek Jeter making his first visit to the Bronx this season, Kuroda gave a gutsy performance, Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer and the New York Yankees used a flurry of early long balls to outslug the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 Thursday night.
“This might be his best performance of the year,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It says a lot because he didn’t have a whole lot.”
Vernon Wells homered again against Mark Buehrle, and Francisco Cervelli also connected for New York, which overcame a 3-0 deficit to beat the Blue Jays for the third time within a week. The Yankees took two of three in a weekend series in Toronto.
Kuroda (3-1) settled after giving up homers to Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie in the first two innings, yielding six hits and three runs before getting the third out of the second. With a little help from Cervelli, his catcher, Kuroda didn’t allow a hit after Munenori Kawasaki doubled with two outs in the second.
“All I thought about was, ’Just hang in there,”’ Kuroda said through a translator.
Cervelli knew Kuroda was struggling, yet he would never let on. His job was to figure out a way to guide his pitcher through the struggles.
“I think he started to take a little more time and throw his pitches down,” Cervelli said. “I started to call more breaking balls.”
Jeter, out until probably mid-July because of a broken ankle, watched a no-frills New York lineup improve to 12-9. The Yankees captain said he was meeting some of his teammates for the first time.
Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson each pitched a scoreless inning, and Mariano Rivera was perfect in the ninth for his seventh save in seven chances.
The game drew 31,445, the fourth time this month a record low has been set at new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009.
Toronto manager John Gibbons was ejected in the seventh inning after umpires overturned a call at first, giving Ben Francisco an infield hit.
With a runner on first, Francisco hit a soft grounder to third base. Lawrie made a low throw that first base umpire Chad Fairchild initially said Encarncion made a clean scoop and Francisco was out.
But crew chief Jeff Kellogg, who was the second base umpire, felt he had a better view of the play than Fairchild. He called the group together and overturned the call. TV replays showed Encarnacion trapped the ball and didn’t have possession.
“My sense was that the ball was resting on the ground and his glove was around the top of the ball,” Kellogg said.
Gibbons argued with Kellogg, tossed his hat and was ejected for the 22nd time in his career.
“I asked him how could they overturn it if there is no appeal by the other side? I thought the rule was that there had to be an appeal by the other side for them to get together,” Gibbons said. “That was my interpretation of the rule. They are a good umpiring crew, they’re trying to get it right.”
Gibbons added: “You kind of wish they had done that when Galarraga was pitching the perfect game.”
He was referring to Detroit’s Armando Galarraga, who lost a perfect game in 2010 on a blown call at first base with two outs in the ninth inning.
It was Gibbons’ second ejection in two games for the disappointing Blue Jays, off to a 9-14 start after bulking up their roster during the off-season.
The left-handed Buehrle, pitching against Kuroda for the second time within a week, struggled against a team that came in hitting .199 against lefties, yielding five runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings. Buehrle (1-1) has lost seven straight decisions against the Yankees dating to 2004 with the Chicago White Sox and is 1-9 in 14 starts against New York.
Encarnacion hit a two-run drive in the first, and Lawrie led off the second with a fly that landed in the second row of the short porch in right field for his first home run this season.
Wells, a former Toronto star who was among the players New York acquired in March, homered leading off the second with a drive just beyond the 408-ft mark in centre field. Wells is 24 for 50 (.480) against Buehrle.
“He’s got new life going over there,” Gibbons said of Wells. “He’s a very intelligent guy and you know he’s motivated.”
Jayson Nix and Brett Gardner reached on singles, and Cano sent a long drive to right-centre for his seventh homer of the year.
“He’s fun to watch,” Wells said of Cano.