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Analysis: Yanks claim to momentum--Hughes has to be better, right?

The Yankees' Phil Hughes looks on during player

The Yankees' Phil Hughes looks on during player introductions before Game 4 of the ALCS against Texas at Yankee Stadium. (Oct. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

I’m not sure I buy the bromide, “Momentum is as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.” I believe there can be a carryover from one game to the next (as long as Cliff Lee isn’t pitching the next game).

So maybe it’s not technically momentum. Call it confidence. The Rangers got rolling Tuesday night because they had a good feeling coming off Monday night. Finally, a few of the Yankees have confidence. Nick Swisher finally got a hit, a home run that reinforced the three-spot the Yankees took during Texas’ Keystone Kops second-inning defense.

Jorge Posada had looked creaky and ineffective before yesterday. Curtis Granderson’s head had to get a boost from his three hits in Game 5. Even Alex Rodriguez went 1-for-2 to raise his average this series to .176.

All of this matters. I got a kick out of Posada saying after the game that the Yankees’ problems boiled down to this: “We haven’t pitched.” Fact is, before yesterday, they hadn’t hit. The Yankees had chances in Games 2 and 4 to break open innings and grab hold of the series and they didn’t do it. They finally took advantage yesterday, accepting walks from C.J. Wilson and put pressure on the whole Texas team, which buckled in the second inning.

Wilson is an amusing fellow and all. It was funny to hear him say before the series say that Lee had an impact on him; that before Lee’s arrival he was a righthanded second baseman. He described his effort yesterday as “Twilight Zone.” Maybe it was more Tightness Zone. His fastball didn’t have any zip. He didn’t have a confident game when his team had the Yankees on the ropes. He helped the Yankees get their confidence back, and that could change everything in this series.

But, hey, who am I to trample years of baseball wisdom? If you want to say momentum is as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, we can go that way. In fact, you can make the case that Wilson tossed away the Rangers momentum yesterday the way he shot-putted the relay to home plate during the second inning.

So, in that vein, you have to say the law of averages likes the Yankees’ chances for momentum tomorrow. Phil Hughes can’t possibly be worse than he was in Game 2 and probably can’t be as bad. He is a better pitcher than the Rangers’ Colby Lewis, who outpitched Hughes in Game 2 and will face him again in Game 6.

Hughes is, after all, an All-Star. That might be a bit of a sore subject in that Hughes already has had an impact on the postseason by having been the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game. The National League was guaranteed home field advantage in the World Series because of its All-Star Game win, which could mean plenty to the Giants if they hang on to win the National League Championship Series. They seem invulnerable at home.

That notwithstanding, Hughes was good enough to make that game and he probably will be good enough to keep the Yankees in the game tomorrow night. Granted, he hasn’t had a monthly earned run average better than 4.22 since May—and most months, he has been over 5.00—but not once all season did he allow seven earned runs in a game as he did last Saturday. He is not likely to have another clunker.

And with a few of the Yankees having found some confidence yesterday, a non-clunker might be all they need from Hughes. They certainly can win this game.

After that, the Yankees can switch clichés. Against Cliff Lee, they can scrap the one that says, “Momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher” and instead take up the one that says, “Anything can happen in a Game 7.”

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