Reporting from Miami — Hiroki Kuroda said his deceased friend was in his thoughts.
Two days before Kuroda held the Florida Marlins to an unearned run over eight magnificent innings in the Dodgers' 7-3 victory at Sun Life Stadium, he learned from news reports out of Japan that Takuya Kimura had died of a brain hemorrhage.
But as Kuroda stood in front of his locker biting his lower lip between sentences on Friday night, he said he didn't want to trivialize the death of his longtime Hiroshima Carp teammate by doing something as tacky as dedicating his first victory of the season to him.
"To say that I pitched for Takuya-san and that it affected the outcome of the game would be making light of what happened," Kuroda said.
An infield coach for the Tokyo Giants, Kimura collapsed on the field during pregame fielding drills in Hiroshima last week. He was 37.
"Instead of saying that I did this for him, I'd like to think that I have a renewed appreciation for being able to wear this uniform and take the field every day," Kuroda said. "That's something I learned from Takuya-san."
Kuroda (1-0) pitched as if this game were his last.
"He just kept competing the whole time," Manager Joe Torre said.
"He was just aggressive," catcher Russell Martin said.
Effectively mixing his sinker and slider to cover both sides of the plate, Kuroda struck out seven and forced 14 groundball outs.
"Of course, that meant more work for Casey," Kuroda said as he tried to suppress a laugh.
By Casey, he was referring to Casey Blake, the veteran third baseman who was credited with six assists and an error.
Blake said he didn't mind the unusually busy night.
"I like a night like that," he said. "I might go three or four days without a ground ball. It certainly keeps you on your toes."
This about sealed a day off for Blake in the series finale on Sunday, as Torre was already intent on sitting the 36-year-old in day games that followed night games.
"We'll see," Blake said. "I'll plead a case to stay in there."
On the other hand, the Dodgers' overworked relievers welcomed the rest offered to them by Kuroda.
Kuroda's outing was by far the longest by a Dodger starter this season, as the previous best was the 5 1/3 innings delivered by Chad Billingsley in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
The bullpen's workload would have been even less had Russ Ortiz not walked the bases loaded with one out in the ninth. That prompted Torre to call on closer Jonathan Broxton, who gave up a two-run double to Wes Helms but struck out Chris Coghlan and Cameron Maybin to end the game.
The Dodgers fell behind in the fifth inning, 1-0, as the Marlins capitalized on a throwing error by Martin. But Manny Ramirez responded with a lead-off double in the seventh that started a four-run surge, which was aided by a throwing error by Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
Kuroda contributed to the rally with a sacrifice bunt. The plate appearance was the first in which his image appeared on the video scoreboard behind right field. In his first two at-bats, the picture on the screen was that of minor league infielder Chin-lung Hu.