From the time he agreed to terms with the Yankees in 2004, Phil Hughes has dutifully followed orders from his superiors.
Start. Relieve. Pitch. Rest. Rehabilitate. Rest again.
Hence the irony that covers this Yankees' do-or-die moment: For once, it's Hughes controlling the Yankees' fate rather than the other way around.
"I didn't want my season to end on that last start," Hughes said Thursday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "And so I look at this as a great opportunity to go out there, and obviously, we have a lot of work to do. It's not like we are in the driver's seat here.
"We are still in this series, and we have to win tomorrow. And that's the bottom line. And I feel good going into it, and I think the rest of the guys in the clubhouse feel the same way."
The Yankees trail Texas three games to two after saving their season with a 7-2 Game 5 victory Wednesday at home. An Andy Pettitte-Cliff Lee matchup for the ages looms in Game 7. But first, Hughes must help his club win Game 6.
He started and lost Game 2 here, getting hammered for seven runs and 10 hits in four innings, walking three and striking out three. Going on six days' rest, he clearly lacked command.
This time, well . . . he'll pitch on five days' rest, not dramatically different. Nevertheless, the Yankees have confidence. How else are they supposed to feel?
"I expect a good game," Alex Rodriguez said. "Phil didn't have the best performance in Game 2, and I think he's looking forward to a great battle."
Said Hughes: "I'm facing the same team again, and something's got to change. I've got to execute my pitches better. I have to make some adjustments, and that's the key. I think whoever makes the adjustments is going to come out on top."
The Yankees have to adjust to Game 2 winner Colby Lewis, whom nearly the entire team hadn't seen since 2007 or even earlier.
"Our guys have a better idea what he's going to try to do to them, and that can always be helpful," Joe Girardi said.
Hughes threw 1761/3 carefully monitored innings in the regular season and has 11 more in the postseason. His previous career high came in 2006, when he totaled 146 with Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. The Yankees have loosened the leash, given the stakes.
"Coming into the season, I wasn't sure how my body was going to react to throwing that many innings," Hughes said. "To be perfectly honest with you, I feel great. And when you come out and you have the adrenaline of a big playoff game like these are, any little aches and pains or whatever you have go away.
"That's the nice thing about this point in the season. You're out there, and every time you take the mound, you feel 100 percent. It's just about calming those nerves and executing pitches."
If he doesn't execute, he'll wind up in the 190 range for the 2010 season. If he improves his performance from Game 2, and his teammates support him, he could wind up getting close to the 200 mark.
It's in his hands, for once. The only Hughes Rules still in effect call for him to get them to Game 7.