On the third pitch of Saturday's game, A's leadoff hitter John Jaso lifted a high fly ball toward the short rightfield porch. Everyone at Yankee Stadium got a good, long look at it, and the most worried person in the building was Phil Hughes, who spun around and expected the worst.
"It didn't sound good off the bat,'' he said. "I'm thinking, oh no, that's not what I wanted to do to start the game off.''
But Ichiro Suzuki leaped and made a homer-saving grab, pulling the baseball back from the top edge of the wall for the first out.
Hughes pretty much took care of the rest. Helped by that nudge, he gathered momentum like a boulder rolling downhill, allowing four hits and two walks in eight scoreless innings to lead the Yankees past the A's, 4-2, in a brisk 2 hours, 36 minutes. "He was excellent,'' Joe Girardi said.
Hughes (1-2) struck out a season-high nine for the second straight outing in earning his first win this season. He also became the Yankees' first righthanded starter to pitch eight scoreless innings with nine strikeouts since Mike Mussina (11 Ks) did it in 2004 at Kansas City.
The last time it was done in the Bronx? That would be Roger Clemens, who beat the Rays in 2003.
Yes, Hughes was that good, and in his last four starts, which includes three straight no-decisions, he has a 1.93 ERA with 30 strikeouts and five walks in 28 innings. "I feel like I'm kind of clicking right now with what I'm trying to do,'' Hughes said.
That goes double for the Yankees, who again were helped by unlikely heroes in picking up their seventh win in nine games.
When Brett Gardner added his own run-scoring infield hit after Eduardo Nuñez tripled in the seventh, it felt like piling on at the time. The A's had barely put a dent in Hughes, and once he wrapped up the eighth by retiring his 10th straight batter, the crowd of 41,349 let loose with its strongest "Huuuuughes'' chant of the season. It was quite a show.
"When I'm getting ahead of guys, it makes it that much easier,'' Hughes said. "I was able to get ahead, and for the most part, do what I wanted to do.''
The only negative was that he couldn't finish the job. At 118 pitches through eight, that was it for Hughes, and his exit made things a bit more dramatic for the Yankees.
In came Shawn Kelley, and his lone contribution was serving up a leadoff single to Yoenis Cespedes in the ninth inning, a hit that delighted the crowd when the bullpen door swung wide for Mariano Rivera.
This was no open-and-shut case, however. A walk, a forceout, and a hit-and-run single by Seth Smith pushed in one run. The A's closed to 4-2 when Josh Reddick beat out what looked like a game-ending double-play ball. But with the tying run at the plate, Rivera got Adam Rosales on a soft fly to right to end it.
The last thing Hughes needed was to have another solid effort flushed. In his three previous starts, he left the game with the Yankees trailing 2-1 each time. On Saturday, with no Joba Chamberlain (disabled list) and no David Robertson (sore hamstring), Girardi didn't want to take any chances, so he summoned Rivera in a non-save situation. "I wasn't going to mess around,'' Girardi said.
While Hughes credited his aggressive approach for taming the A's, the bottom third of the Yankees' order used Colon's attacking mind-set against him.
In the third inning, No. 9 hitter Stewart jumped on a 1-and-0 fastball for his second homer this season after totaling only four in 351 at-bats coming into this year.
No. 7 hitter Overbay hit the first pitch of the fifth inning into the second deck in rightfield for his fifth homer and third in six games. Among AL first basemen, only Chris Davis (nine), Edwin Encarnacion (seven) and Prince Fielder (seven) have more. Last season, Overbay had two in 65 games.
"Hopefully [Colon] will make a mistake,'' said Overbay, who also had a double. "Whether it's pitch one or pitch 10, you've got to be ready for it.''
The A's weren't as fortunate against Hughes, who survived his early mistake and never really made another.