Phil Hughes knew he just had to get out of the first inning. That had as much to do with how he'd leave the mound as how he'd perform on it.
Said Hughes, "I was just hoping I didn't start walking toward their dugout.''
That would have been pretty awkward. But he ended up making his former teammates feel uncomfortable in a different way.
Hughes was masterful in his first career start against the Yankees on Sunday at the Stadium. He gave up two runs, three hits and two walks in eight innings, striking out six, and earned the victory in Minnesota's 7-2 win.
Hughes was taken off the hook (and then some) when the Twins scored six runs in the ninth to erase a 2-1 deficit. He retired the last 15 batters he faced as the Yankees were held hitless in eight of the nine innings.
The crowd seemed ambivalent about his return, not really cheering or booing with any fervor. Hughes, who signed with the Twins as a free agent during the offseason, said the only reception he got in the bullpen before the game was a few fans asking him to throw them a ball.
Maybe they just didn't recognize the guy who was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees last year -- including 1-10 with a 6.32 ERA at the Stadium.
Hughes has been a new man in Minnesota. He's allowed three or fewer earned runs in his last eight starts, compiling a 6-0 record and 1.99 ERA in that span. Overall, he is 6-1 with a 3.12 ERA.
When Hughes walked Brian McCann to begin the second, it snapped a streak of 452/3 innings since April 20 (178 batters) without issuing a base on balls, a stretch that is second in Twins history. Brad Radke had 191 straight in 2005. And after allowing 59 homers the previous two years, he's given up four in 2014 -- none in his last five starts.
"Just what everybody saw right there today, that's what we've been seeing his last four to five starts,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's fun to watch.''
Hughes, 27, said he tipped his cap to Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild when he walked onto the field and commenced a "strange'' pregame in the visiting bullpen. He said beating the Yankees wasn't sweeter than any other victory.
"I won four games last year,'' he said. "I know how precious these are. I put the same amount of weight into every single one, because you never know when your last one is going to be.''
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he saw a difference in how Hughes approached hitters. He challenged them and didn't get into long counts. His cutter, Girardi said, was sharper.
Hughes limited the damage to two runs in the fourth, an inning in which the Yankees had the bases loaded with none out and one run already home.
>"There were a number of occasions [last year] he'd be in the sixth and he'd be at 100 pitches,'' Girardi said, "and that wasn't the case today.''
Hughes threw 72 of his 100 pitches for strikes before being removed after the eighth.
There were some boos when Yankees closer David Robertson was charged with five runs in two-thirds of an inning in the ninth. But nothing significant for or against Hughes, which surprised him.
"I thought everybody was pretty good,'' he said. "I didn't hear really too many things. I'm sure if I would have gotten shelled, it would have been a different story.''