ARLINGTON, Texas — Phil Hughes watched from the bullpen as CC Sabathia bounced back from an awful first start in the AL championship series and kept alive the Yankees’ hopes of repeating as World Series champs.
Now it’s his turn.
Hughes will start Game 6 on Friday night against the Texas Rangers at their place, where’d been terrific until getting crushed in Game 2. He’s thrilled to get a second chance with even higher stakes. The Yankees must win to force a decisive Game 7.
“I didn’t want my season to end on that last start,” he said Thursday.
The Yankees trail 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, which means they’re facing elimination. Hughes certainly doesn’t want what’s been a breakout season to end because of him, especially since he was on the mound for New York’s first loss this series.
The big right-hander gave up seven run, 10 hits and three walks in four innings. He allowed 13 baserunners while getting 12 outs.
“It was just being very predictable and throwing a lot of fastballs in hitter’s counts that were mistakes, is what it boils down to,” he said. “I have to do a better job of that, and I’m confident that I will.”
He usually does. Only once all season did the Yankees lose back-to-back games that he started, and he started 29 games in the regular season. He won 18 and was an All-Star.
The Game 2 meltdown was out of character.
Hughes hadn’t allowed that many runs all season. It matched his most hits allowed and was his second-shortest.
“I expect him to have much better command of all of his stuff,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The Rangers are expecting something different, too.
“He’s going to make adjustments, I’m sure,” said outfielder David Murphy, who had a homer and a double in two at-bats against Hughes that game. “We just have to adjust right back.”
Yankees captain Derek Jeter said he’s counting on Hughes pitching more like he did against Minnesota in the division series, when he threw seven scoreless innings — allowing just four hits and a walk — in his first postseason start.
“Everyone is going to have rough outings every once in a while,” Jeter said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. He has confidence in himself. But we have to give him some support. Hopefully we do that early.”
Hughes said he had as much adrenaline or more in Game 2 as he did against the Twins. If that wasn’t the problem, then maybe it was inactivity. He’d gone seven days between starts and another week before his previous outing.
“Now that I’m on more of a regular routine, it can only help,” he said.
Another theory is that his arm could be getting tired. The 24-year-old already thrown the most innings of his pro career, more than double his most in the majors.
“I certainly haven’t noticed any wear or fatigue or anything like that,” he said. “Coming into the season, I wasn’t sure how my body was going to react to throwing that many innings. To be perfectly honest with you, I feel great and when you come out and you have the adrenaline of a big playoff game like these are, any little aches and pains or whatever you have go away. … It’s just about calming those nerves and executing pitches.”
He should certainly be comfortable on the mound at Rangers Ballpark and seeing the Rangers in general.
Over three previous appearances here, he’d pitched 15 1-3 scoreless innings. Texas hitters were a combined 3-for-38 against him.
Then the Rangers went 10-for-20 against him in Game 2.
“I expect a good game,” third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. “I think Phil didn’t have the best performance in Game 2 and I think he’s looking forward to a great battle.”