Better All the Time

Bronx, N.Y., October 9, 2010 — Although the larger story may have been that the Yanks swept the Twins in three games to win the 2010 ALDS in Yankee Stadium 6-1 on Saturday night, for Phil Hughes the bigger aspect may have been a more personal one. Exactly one year ago, the Twins put an ugly inning on Phil at the worst possible time, and although to all accounts he seems to be a pleasant young man, he really seemed to have enjoyed the chance to get back this time around.

A Yankee bullpen stalwart in 2009, Phil took a 1-1 tie he was handed after seven innings on October 9 in Game 2 of the ALDS and promptly turned it into a 3-1 Yankee deficit. Although Phil got two quick outs, a walk and three straight singles gave the visitors the late lead, and if not for some great late bat work from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the 2009 Yankee postseason might not have been the magical ride we all experienced and loved.

The Yankee offense was plenty in evidence this Saturday as well, with a Robbie Cano triple, rbi singles from Jorge Posada and Teixeira and a Marcus Thames home run staking Phil to a good lead through four frames. But who’s to say what kind of damage the Twins could have caused had they been able to do what they had done in the first two games of this series in Minnesota: grab an early lead?

But that was one thing Phil was determined would not happen. With his much-hoped-for change up not much in evidence, Phil pounded a low-nineties fastball and an effective 75-mph curve to four swinging strike outs and 13 outs from the first 13 Twins batters on just 47 pitches. When Denard Span, the lone Twins batter in this game who had reached Phil for a key single a year ago, led off the top of the fourth with a single, Phil’s first-pitch cutter to Orlando Hudson produced an instantaneous 6-4-3. A Jim Thome walk and singles from Delmon Young, Hudson, and Joe Mauer highlighted mini Twins rallies in the top of the fifth and sixth, but in each case Phil coaxed swinging strike outs to escape, against Michael Cuddyer in the fifth and Jason Kubel in the sixth.

The nine pitches it took to retire the Twins on two grounders to second and a fly in the seventh represented the third time it took Hughes single-digit pitches to close out an inning and, when Nick Swisher responded with a leadoff home run in the bottom half, the Yanks had a 6-0 lead. Even if the just 12 of 25 first-pitch strikes was a disappointing number, Hughes’s 67-33 strikes-balls ratio was textbook, he allowed just one walk to go with the six swinging Ks, and all four safeties he allowed were one-base hits.

With newly established eighth-inning guy Kerry Wood stumbling through a three-hit, one walk outing, the Yankee pen was reached for a Minnesota run in the eighth. The Yankee scoreboard displayed the stat that the Twins had scored no runs vs. Mariano Rivera in 15 and two-thirds innings going in tonight. It stands at 16 and two-thirds now after a 12-pitch, one-strike-out ninth closed this one out at 6-1 Yankees 16 minutes before midnight.

Robbie Cano, whose leadoff second-inning triple got the Yanks going, had two hits and scored two; Marcus Thames homered for two and had two hits; and Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher had two hits each as well. And by stroking his 41st postseason rbi with a single in the second, Jorge Posada passed Mickey Mantle for ninth place on the all-time postseason rbi list.

Seventy years ago this day, the world was blessed with the birth of one of the few true geniuses of his generation when former Beatle John Lennon was born. Witnessing Phil Hughes’s dominance Saturday night one year after struggling vs. the Twins in the ALDS exactly one year ago, I have to agree with these words from the Lennon/McCartney hit from 40 years ago:

I have to admit it’s getting better
Getting better all the time.