I remember watching Phil Hughes’ great, painfully cut-short start against Texas three years ago*, and thinking it was the most depressing 10-1 Yankees win I’d ever seen. Last night’s game was not nearly such a bummer: Hughes pitched the best game of his career, took his no-hitter into the eighth and was finally derailed by a comebacker bouncing off his glove, not by a key muscle making an unhappy popping noise. The Yankees won 3-1, and the Phenom/Phranchise nicknames would seem to be back in business.
Hughes walked Daric Barton on four pitches in the first inning, but put away the next 20 A’s he faced, 10 by strikeout, a career high. He got himself all the way into the eight inning with no hits and barely any drama – none of those dazzling close plays that Sabathia got in his no-hit innings of a few weeks ago. Everything was moving in exactly the way you’d want it to move, and while I don’t think his fastball topped 92 or 93 mph, that’s evidently plenty fast enough.
The Yankees scraped a pair of runs together in the fourth, when Alex Rodriguez tripled, and made it look like such a good idea that Robinson Cano decided to do the same immediately afterwards, later scoring on Posada’s groundout. Meanwhile, Hughes was being ostentatiously ignored in the dugout until the eighth, where with his pitch count still quite low and mostly made of strikes, he promptly allowed a hit to Eric Chavez. Well, kind of – the ball hit off Hughes’ arm and glove, and while he wasn’t hurt (PHEW… hey, can that be Hughes’ new nickname?), he also couldn’t find the ball for a few very long seconds. He regained his composure but as he reached 100 pitches with several runners on base, Girardi brought in Joba Chamberlain; one run scored before the Yanks could turn the game over to Mariano, who made things slightly more interesting that was strictly necessary in the ninth but, as usual, remained in control.
Pre-Mo, the Yankees got an ultimately unneeded but reassuring insurance run when Brett Gardner dunked a single into left to score Curtis Granderson (who, in case you were wondering, has been adjusting just fine to NYC off the field, too). Ken Singleton had just been saying, as Gardner faced a 3-1 count, “one more ball out of the zone and Jeter will come to the plate,” and I was thinking, hey, there is a chance Gardner will actually get a hit, you know. (I watched the Mets-Cubs game earlier in the evening and let me tell you, there is nothing like it to make you appreciate the Yankees’ lineup. The Cubs happened to win tonight with plenty of offense, but then they were facing Oliver Perez, and Lou Piniella still spent most of the game looking like he was watching someone strangle a koala… or, perhaps, like he would like to strangle a koala himself).
Anyway, as much as we all wanted to see a little history, it seems ridiculous to call this game disappointing. Hughes’ no-hitter interruptus didn’t bother me much, because it was just beautiful to see him pitch so well… and then to be available again in five days.
Now excuse while I go knock on all the wood within a mile radius.
*Holy crap, was that really three years ago?