Things unravel for Phil Hughes after a strong start against Orioles
It all started off so well.
The Yankees entered Sunday's game against the Orioles on an emotional high, given that they were less than 24 hours removed from a 4-3 comeback victory in the second game of the three-game series. And Phil Hughes, coming off three straight strong starts, was dominant early. He retired the first seven batters he faced and allowed two hits in the first four innings.
But then, faster than you can say the Yankees are in a major free fall, it all unraveled. He gave up a solo homer by Mark Reynolds in the fifth and a go-ahead three-run shot by Reynolds in the sixth in the Yankees' 8-3 loss.
Said Hughes, "The wheels just came off there."
There were quite a few questions afterward concerning why Hughes still was driving in the sixth -- why Joe Girardi had him pitch to Reynolds with two men on base and a run already home, in light of the fact that Reynolds had led off the fifth with a long homer to left-center.
After the Yankees took a 3-1 lead on Nick Swisher's two-out RBI single in the bottom of the fifth, Girardi sent Hughes back out with relievers warming up. When Nate McLouth walked and Adam Jones and Matt Wieters followed with hard-hit singles, the Orioles not only trailed 3-2 but had produced five hits and a walk in a nine-batter span -- with Reynolds up again.
"That was my decision to leave him in there," said Girardi, who preferred to have Hughes face Reynolds rather than mix and match with his relievers (although he pulled Hughes after the second homer and then used seven relievers in the final four innings). "He had struck him out and given up a home run to him. Reynolds is a guy who is going to strike out his share. He hung a breaking ball."
Hughes said of the second home run: "It was a breaking ball I wanted to get down and away from him and I left it over the middle."
Reynolds' second homer gave him four home runs and seven RBIs in the three-game series. He went 5-for-11.
Hughes (13-12) has given up 32 home runs in 1612/3 innings this season, tying him for the major-league lead with the Angels' Ervin Santana and the Orioles' Tommy Hunter. He has allowed at least one home run in six straight starts.
Hughes gave up five runs, eight hits and a walk in five-plus innings, striking out six. He threw 67 of 99 pitches for strikes, but two of them in particular caught too much of the plate -- the up-and-in fastball that missed Russell Martin's low-and-away target on Reynolds' first homer and the hanging breaking ball to Reynolds that turned the game around.
Reynolds, who also hit two home runs Friday, couldn't have picked a better time to have a good series as the Orioles pulled to within two games of the Yankees in the AL East.
Said Girardi: "We need to play better baseball. That's our concern. Offensively, defensively, all things involved."