NEW YORK -- With Mariano Rivera unavailable to answer the ringing bullpen phone, the Yankees had to turn to a couple of their alternate choices to preserve Hiroki Kuroda's eight innings of scoreless ball.
The end result was not exactly stress-free, but Boone Logan and David Robertson combined to finish off the Angels on Monday, securing a 2-1 Yankees victory and ensuring that Kuroda's dominant seven-strikeout performance did not go to waste.
"Our bullpen guys have been great all along, but they have been working a lot lately," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "As a starting pitcher, my responsibility is to make sure that I go deep in innings to hopefully make them rest."
Remarkably, it has been a month since the Yankees enjoyed a winning streak of any length. Monday's tight victory gave New York its first back-to-back wins since July 11-12, when they defeated the Royals and Twins in consecutive games.
"We've talked about that all season long, it's something we'll have to do," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Curtis Granderson slugged his third homer of the season and Brett Gardner had a timely run-scoring single to account for New York's production against Angels starter Garrett Richards, who was saddled with the loss in a complete-game effort.
Girardi has estimated that his team will need about 35 more victories to reach the postseason for the 18th time in 19 seasons. Should they be able to beat their long odds, there may be no better choice on their roster than Kuroda for a must-win game.
"We saw last year, coming into the [American League] East is not an easy task," catcher Chris Stewart said. "For him to come in and do what he did last year is really special. He's topping that -- even better this year. It just goes to show you, he's a veteran guy, he doesn't get fazed out there. With runners on base or in scoring position, he goes into shutdown mode and eliminates runs. He gets extremely focused."
Gardner put the Yankees on top with a third-inning single to center field, driving home Eduardo Nunez, and Richards kept the Yankees quiet into the seventh inning until Granderson delivered a long blast into the second deck in right field.
"[Granderson] knows when he's starting to get right," Girardi said. "It's a feeling you feel when you're seeing the ball better. [Richards] has good stuff."
Alex Rodriguez had another night of ups and downs at third base for the Yankees, hearing cheers after a second-inning single but then a loud negative response after grounding into a pair of 6-4-3 double plays in the fourth and sixth innings.
His ongoing saga was just a footnote on a night that Kuroda improved to 4-1 with a tiny 0.94 ERA over his last seven starts, walking just one. It was Kuroda's ninth scoreless outing of the season, and his fifth in his last seven starts.
"I wish I knew the answer to [why]," Kuroda said. "Hopefully, somebody will teach me what it is that's been working."
At 107 pitches after the eighth, in which he stranded Chris Iannetta at second base following a two-out double, Kuroda handed the game off to the bullpen, and the Angels were not sorry to see him go.
"His offspeed stuff is very difficult to pick up," Iannetta said. "The rotation on it, you couldn't really pick it up. You had to wait a long time, which made you late on the fastball. If you're trying to hit the fastball, you're ahead on the offspeed. He kept guys off balance -- very deceptive, very good location."
Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild agreed to rest Rivera following a rough week in which the 43-year-old blew three consecutive saves for the first time in his storied career, taxing his right arm with 81 pitches.
"I told Larry I will pitch no matter what, but I would take the day off if it's OK," Rivera said.
J.B. Shuck opened the inning with a single off Logan, drawing chants of, "We want Mo!" from the stands, but Logan recorded a strikeout and Robertson -- the likeliest replacement for Rivera next season -- took over from there, seeking just his sixth career save.
"That was a little different," Robertson said. "It's not easy to pitch when the crowd is chanting, 'We want Mo!'" Robertson said. "But you've just got to deal with it, go out there and try to finish the game."
It did not come easily, as Robertson again had to "Houdini" his way out of a jam. He lost Mike Trout to a walk and Josh Hamilton blooped a run-scoring double over A-Rod's head at third base.
After an intentional walk to load the bases, Robertson rebounded from the sticky situation to strike out a flailing Mark Trumbo on three pitches. He then blew an eye-level 3-2 fastball past the swing of Chris Nelson, a teammate earlier this year, for the final out.
"It was a little different, but we've got a pretty good bullpen down there," Stewart said. "We've got guys that can do the job. They made it a little interesting toward the end. They didn't get hit hard, but balls fell in. They kept their cool and finished the game out."