The Phil Hughes who has been a major league starter this season for the Minnesota Twins has been largely unrecognizable to the New York Yankees; the Hughes who carried in a sparkling 3.40 ERA into Thursday's contest is a completely different pitcher from the one who bumbled his way to ghastly earned run numbers in his last four seasons as a starting pitcher for the Yankees. This season, Hughes has cured the ills that plagued him during his time with his former club: namely, issuing too many walks and giving up far too many home runs.
But Thursday proved to be a heartwarming reunion between the New York Yankees and the old version of Phil Hughes, whom the franchise grew to love in his role as a reliever, then tolerate as he took his lumps as a young starter, and then eventually became so exasperated with as he failed to show any growth that they refused to sign him to any long-term deal, which set the stage for him eventually becoming a pitcher for the Twins. And it was that reunion that sparked the Yankees 7-4 victory over the Twins -- the Yankees' first victory in six games -- because Hughes's performance in the game was a callback to his past struggles with keeping the ball in the field of play.
In his 6.3 innings, Hughes was able to avoid one former bugaboo of his; he only issued one walk. However, the Yankees could afford to eschew working counts well enough to draw walks because they had so much success when they made contact with Hughes's pitches, posting a .333 batting average on balls in play and hammering out a total of eight hits. Most notably, they were able to do what so few hitters have managed to do against Hughes this season, and which has been a huge key to his successful turn as a starter this year: they were able to crush his fly balls with enough authority to turn them into home runs. Hughes ran out of fly ball luck for at least one night and gave up two home runs to the Yankees hitters on six fly balls.
The Yankees' two home runs -- a three-run blast by Carlos Beltran and a solo shot by Zelous Wheeler in the fourth inning -- accounted for four of the Yankees' seven runs and gave the club its first lead of the game. In the seventh inning, the Yankees would tack on their other three runs, with two of the runs charged to Hughes's account and the other run being laid on the throwing arm of reliever Brian Duensing. Duensing actually allowed two of the three Yankees' runs in the seventh, but one of the Yankees base runners who scored was on base because of Hughes, giving Duensing a free pass for at least one of the poor pitches he made.
Also getting a free pass in Thursday's game was Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, who looked like anything but an ace for most of his 7.0 innings as he gave up four runs and also had his pitches continually knocked around by the Twins hitters en route to their .375 batting average on balls in play. Yet, Tanaka was still given the decision victory due to the Yankees hitters finally returning the favor for all the times that Tanaka has masked their hitting woes with spectacular pitching and still managed to lead the team to victory. In essence, the Yankees batters made it up to Tanaka for his last start when he pitched brilliantly, but still took the loss because his teammates could not score enough runs to aid his cause.
While the Yankees' win on Thursday was a vital one, the team will need to earn a lot more victories in a row if they are seeking to climb out of the hole their five-game losing streak placed them in and make some noise in the race to the postseason.