After all the times that Phil Hughes has let the Yankees down this season, they finally returned the favor. Not that you'd want to call it a favor.

Yes, he was the losing pitcher in an 8-4 defeat to the Angels Thursday at the Stadium. True, he did allow his inevitable home run (the ninth in his past seven starts and his 17th at home this year). Still, he was not the one most to blame for the afternoon that ended the Yankees' winning streak at four games.

Had the offensive production been as timely as it was for CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova the previous two nights, totaling 25 runs, Hughes (4-12) would have cruised to his first victory since July 2. Had Boone Logan not made a hash of it in the eighth inning, allowing former Yankee Chris Nelson to hit a grand slam, his second home run of the day, Hughes could have grabbed a no-decision.

As it was, the Yankees had nothing to show for their 15 hits and had to settle for leftover momentum from five wins in the previous six games. "It's playoff baseball for us right now and I think the guys enjoy the challenge, I really do," manager Joe Girardi said.

And Hughes had to settle for progress. Girardi said, "I thought he threw the ball better today. I thought his command was better today. We need him to keep improving."

Hughes allowed three runs. six hits and one walk in six innings, which was not horrible. "It was certainly better. It's hard to pitch much worse than I have been," he said. "The results weren't exactly what I wanted. I thought I threw the ball OK, but at the end of the day, it's a loss. At this point every game is important."

Even another four hits off the scorching bat of Alfonso Soriano, who had two homers in each of the previous two games and totaled a historic 13 RBIs in those two games, could not help the Yankees. This time, the role of Soriano was played by Nelson, whom the Yankees acquired from the Rockies on May 1 and whom the Angels picked up on waivers on May 18.

With the score 2-0 in the fourth, Nelson drove a fastball over the centerfield fence. Hughes said he wanted to keep the fastball down and away, but it got up. That supported Angels starter C.J. Wilson (13-6), who had a classic bend-but-don't-break game, giving up only one run and 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings.

The real damage occurred in the eighth, when Logan issued one intentional and one unintentional walk, then served a breaking pitch that Nelson crushed into the leftfield seats for a grand slam and a 7-1 lead.

"This is tough to swallow," Logan said, adding that he got a bit too slider-happy. "It's my fault. At the end of the day, it's my game."

Not altogether.

Despite the Yankees' three-run outburst in the bottom of the ninth, it was totally the Angels' day, emblematized by a tale of two hits. Soriano was thrown out trying to reach second on a first-inning hit off the leftfield wall. "He made a perfect throw," Soriano said of leftfielder J.B. Shuck. But it looked like Soriano had not run all out in his first steps. Conversely, Angels All-Star Mike Trout sprinted a bloop hit into a double, setting the tone in the eighth.

So the Yankees go to Boston Friday without quite a full head of steam. Still, they have it in their minds that they now are in the wild-card race.

"We have to win a lot of games. We have to win series. We have to play extremely well, but I think our guys look forward to that," said Girardi, whose team is six games behind the second wild-card leader and 8 1/2 behind the Red Sox in the AL East. "It's very meaningful right now and as players, that's what you want."

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