Joe Girardi made the call before even before he could fully grasp the consequences. But the manager sounded unequivocal with his decision. In Thursday night's Game 4 of the American League Division Series, the Yankees will be looking to slam the door on the Orioles.
Latest Yankees stories
And the man on the mound for the Yankees will be righthander Phil Hughes.
"I don't really focus on the circumstances, just if I'm given the opportunity, go out and pitch as well as I can, and that's really it," Hughes said. "Whether I was given the opportunity or not, I'll be prepared for it, and that's really all I can do."
Hughes might be playing down his start, but it comes at a critical point in this best-of-five series. In the past, Girardi has leaned on staff ace CC Sabathia and veteran Andy Pettitte to pitch on short rest in the postseason. However, Sabathia landed on the disabled list twice this season, his first since signing a contract extension. And with Pettitte, the Yankees have been fortunate to have him even on regular rest after he missed nearly three months with a leg injury.
"This is a guy that's coming off an injury, didn't have a ton of starts, threw as many pitches the other day as he's thrown in a while," Girardi said. "He's 40 years old. So I do have some concerns about that."
That leaves Hughes, who has endured an erratic season. In 32 starts, he finished 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA, successfully bouncing back from his injury-marred 2011 season. But it hasn't been a smooth ride.
Hughes' awful first month triggered calls to move him to the bullpen, though he bounced back to establish himself once more in the starting rotation. But through it all, he struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark, which might haunt him against the Orioles, who scored both of their runs Wednesday night on home runs.
The Yankees hit 245 homers, accounting for 48 percent of their total runs this season. Both figures led all of baseball. But the Orioles finished right behind the Bombers in both categories, bashing 214 home runs that led to 47 percent of their runs.
Meanwhile, Hughes surrendered 35 homers, second to the Angels' Ervin Santana in the majors. It is not an ideal matchup for the Yankees, who have no other choice.
"Kind of an up-and-down season," said Hughes, who went 2-2 in four regular-season starts against the Orioles. "But you can't really look at the regular season when it comes to times like this. You just throw that out the window and just try to do the best job you can."