Phil Hughes takes step forward with help of five HRs

Phil Hughes pitches during a game against the

Phil Hughes pitches during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. (Aug. 17, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Just about every time Phil Hughes threw the ball this time, he put it right where he wanted and got just about the result that he intended. The one that really got away from him was his throw to second base in the third inning.

Hughes did not get a good grip on it when he was trying to get a force at second, and possibly a double play. The ball sailed into centerfield and set up a third consecutive four-run opponent's burst in one of his starts. That error even helped account for Dustin Pedroia's three-run home run that put the Yankees in a 4-3 hole.

This time, Hughes did not sink in it, though. He bounced back after those unearned runs, he bounced back from two poor outings and helped the Yankees to a 6-4 win over the Red Sox. It is the sort of effort that could come to mind once the Yankees start shaping their pitching rotation for the postseason.

"I try to treat every start the same, whether it's April or October," Hughes said. "You always try to go out and do the best job that you can. Sometimes you don't have it and things like that. But this is the time of year when it's definitely nice to pitch well."

August looks like a summer vacation cruise for the Yankees, who hit five home runs Friday night. Two were by Nick Swisher, one from each side of the plate. One was by Derek Jeter, his 250th, and it put him in the company of Willie Mays, Craig Biggio and Rickey Henderson as the only players in major-league history to have at least 250 home runs, 3,000 hits and 300 stolen bases. Four of the homers came against Franklin Morales (3-4), who has allowed eight homers in his past two starts against the Yankees.

The Yankees, 23 games over .500 despite having put an A-list group on the disabled list, also flexed their depth. Jayson Nix hit a tiebreaking, two-out single in the sixth. "I don't try to do too much, just get quality at-bats," Nix said.

But Hughes (12-10) was the headliner because of how his previous two starts went south and because someone will be left out if CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte return to full health by October. For pitchers in the bottom reaches of the rotation, there is a downside to depth. Despite the fact that Hughes is tied with Sabathia for the team lead in wins, he is no lock. Not after having given up a four-run fourth in each of his previous two starts.

"I always try to do the best job I can, this game," Hughes said. "It's nice when you look up in the first and it's zero-zero. Those games don't carry over. I just say I need to win this game and do the best job I can. It's not going to do me any good to think of previous at-bats."

He used his changeup more on Friday night than he had in several previous starts combined, Joe Girardi said. Hughes retired 13 of his final 15 batters in a solid seven innings.

"I thought he really pitched tonight," the manager said. "It was great, except for his throw to second."

The Yankees could laugh about it later. There was much to celebrate. Jeter said, "Well, I always hear about how I don't hit home runs. In my view, that's a lot of them."

Swisher was smiling about everything, saying: "I feel like I'm just having fun, man. You know, I'm not stressing about nothing, worried about anything, man. I'm just enjoying the game that I love."

But Hughes was happiest and most relieved that he hadn't thrown a game away.

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