Phil Hughes forced to leave with back stiffness

Phil Hughes is taken out of the game Phil Hughes is taken out of the game with an injury in the fourth inning of Game 3 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. (Oct. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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DETROIT -- Shortly after throwing a pitch in the fourth inning last night, Phil Hughes was surrounded. His pitching coach arrived, along with the team trainer, and finally the manager. Hughes mouthed a few words, shook his head, then retreated to the dugout where he slipped on a gray, hooded sweatshirt.

His night was finished. Soon, the rest of his teammates may be done as well.

Needing a victory to ward off the brink of elimination, the Yankees watched Hughes pitch into the fourth inning, only to have his stiff back force him from what became a 2-1 loss to the Tigers.

"It wasn't too bad," said Hughes, who battled a similar lower back issue last season. "I was trying to stay in the game."

Despite his efforts to talk his way back into the game, manager Joe Girardi pulled Hughes with the Yankees trailing 1-0.

"His low back . . . on the left side tightened up a little bit," Girardi said. "We will see how he is tomorrow and we'll see what we have tomorrow, which will determine what we do with him."

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Not only did the Yankees need a win to avoid falling behind 3-0 in this seven-game series, but they needed a strong start out of Hughes, who was facing the dominating Justin Verlander.

Until Hughes' back seized with stiffness, the righty proved steady under pressure.

In his three-plus innings, Hughes held the Tigers to three hits, three walks and just one run. But in yet another slice of frustration, the Yankees watched Hughes leave the mound for perhaps the final time this season, knowing he appeared capable of much more.

He allowed a pair of baserunners in the first but got Delmon Young to fly out. He allowed two more runners in the third before getting a flyout from Prince Fielder.

But before the fourth inning, Hughes felt his back tighten. He tried to keep it loose in the dugout, to no avail.

Young led off the inning with a homer to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Hughes didn't bother hiding his frustration with the pitch, mouthing an expletive before the ball had even sailed over the leftfield fence. The righthander had pushed the count to 1-and-2, putting him in the driver's seat. Nevertheless, Hughes made his biggest mistake of the night, hanging a curveball over the plate. Young swatted it on a line over the wall.

"I was having a tough time finishing pitches, stuff like that," said Hughes, who endured a similar issue last season.

Soon after Hughes walked Andy Dirks, he was finished.

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"It wasn't so bad that I couldn't have finished," said Hughes, who was left with no choice.

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