“Maybe I’ll get some sleep tonight. I haven’t been doing that much lately.” —Dave Eiland
Welcome back, Phil Hughes.
You wouldn’t know it by the 11-0 final, but last night’s game between the Yankees and Tigers was a pitchers’ duel. Phil Hughes and Edwin Jackson locked horns for six scoreless innings before the Yankees dropped a ten-spot on the Detroit bullpen in the seventh.
Credit the Yankee offense, particularly Robinson Cano, for running deep counts on Jackson all game. Jackson finished the sixth inning having thrown 117 pitches despite having allowed just five men to reach base. With Jackson spent and the game still scoreless entering the seventh, Jim Leyland called on rookie Ryan Perry, a second-year professional who topped out in High-A last year. Perry faced five batters and retired just one, that being Jose Molina, who bunted Nick Swisher (single) and Melky Cabrera (walk) up to set up another key pinch-hitting appearance for Jorge Posada. Posada, who didn’t start for the second straight day due to a sore hamstring, lifted a low fly to left field that Josh Anderson appeared to lose in the Comerica Park lights. The ball skipped past Anderson allowing the gimpy Posada to reach second and both runners to score. After another walk by Perry, Nate Robertson and Brandon Lyon combined to allow seven more Yankees to score. The final blow was a grand slam by Molina that made him the rare player to have a sac bunt and a grand slam in the same inning (it was last done by Sal Bando in 1975, coincidentally also in the seventh inning). The inning went on so long that Angel Berroa, who pinch-ran for Posada, came to bat and singled off Lyon after Molina’s salami. Nick Swisher, who scored twice in that inning and broke out of his slump with two hits and two walks, added the eleventh run with a solo homer off Juan Rincon in the top of the ninth.
The real story of the night, however, was Hughes, who worked six scoreless innings allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six. Spotting his fastball, which was coming in around 93 miles per hour, and mixing in a deadly, low-70s curve, and his new high-80s cutter, Hughes picked up right where he left off from the eight strong innings he threw against A.J. Burnett and the Blue Jays late last September. With his hair a bit bushier, faint sideburns, and what appeared to be a generally fuller build, Hughes looked and pitched like a more mature pitcher than the one we saw last year despite his still-tender age of 22.
Hughes received no favors from home plate umpire Derryl Cousins, who called several curves that dropped into the strike zone and a couple of fastballs right on the lower right-hand corner balls (included in the latter was ball four of one of Hughes’ two walks), yet he didn’t lose his cool or his confidence. He got into one jam, that coming in the fourth inning. With one out, he hit Miguel Cabrera in the hand. Carlos Guillen then singled and both runners moved up on a groundout. Hughes pitched around the hot-hitting Brandon Inge and got the light-hitting Josh Anderson to ground out to end the threat. He then set the side down in order in the fifth and sixth before his 99-pitch count (inflated by Cousins’ strike zone) and the Yankees’ long top of the seventh ended his night.
Hughes best pitch of the night came on a 0-1 count to Placido Polanco with two out in the bottom of the fifth. It was a curveball that Polanco was convinced was coming right at his head. A look of total fear came over Polanco’s face as he began to bail. The pitch then dropped over the plate for a called strike on the inside corner, knee-high. Sick.
Hughes was followed by Mark Melancon, whom Joe Girardi had warming up before the game became a laugher. Melancon worked a 1-2-3 seventh, striking out Inge in the process. I can’t wait to see Hughes and Melancon team up again.