Bronx, N.Y., April 26, 2007 — Philip Hughes took the loss in his major league debut Thursday night, as the Yankees’ losing streak stretched to six games. The team fell 6-0 to A.J. Burnett and the Blue Jays in a chilly Yankee Stadium, where the team hosts rival Boston in the first of three Friday night.
Toronto jumped on the Yanks’ young righthander for three hits and two runs in the first inning, so considering that the home team never did score, it’s clear that this was one he was destined to lose. But Mr. Hughes clearly performed at a level higher than his line might lead one to believe.
He missed with a 94 mph fastball to start the evening, and Toronto right fielder Alex Rios powered his next pitch into short left for a single. Left fielder Adam Lind struck out on 96 mph heat after Rios stole second, and Vernon Wells, the Toronto center fielder, drilled a hard liner over Johnny Damon’s head in dead center for a quick 1-0 lead. Rios and Wells accounted for five of the seven hits Hughes allowed, and the other two safeties went a long way toward shortening the righty’s night, while adding to his runs scored against him.
Following Wells, Hughes appeared to have Frank Thomas struck out on a 2-2 pitch fastball that whispered over the inside corner, but after home plate ump Ed Montague called the pitch a ball, Thomas singled to right and doubled the Blue Jays lead to 2-0. Two ground balls later, Philip was out of the inning, but by then he had been stretched to 27 pitches. But he came out firing in the second, whiffing the first two Jays in a one-two-three-frame. He notched another K while allowing a harmless single in the third, and survived a leadoff fourth-inning walk to first baseman Lyle Overbay by coaxing two ground balls and a fly to right.
At 77 pitches through four, the crowd was upbeat even though the Yankee offense had done little to dent Burnett, and they continued to trail 2-0. But a key play followed as Miguel Cairo, in for a banged-up Derek Jeter, charged a roller up the middle by shortstop John McDonald leading off the fifth. Cairo’s throw found the glove of outstretched first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz with a half step to spare, but when Doug came off the bag a few beats later, first base ump Bill Miller ruled that McDonald was safe. Rios’s second single might have been harmless if the ensuing strike out of Lind was the second out, but Wells singled in McDonald and Rios scored after Thomas’s liner to center that should have been out number three. This was the last tally on Hughes’s night, though Brian Bruney had come on for Philip after the Wells bingle.
Hughes’s best pitch is his hard fastball, and his 73-mph curve is an effective foil when he controls it. He mixed in a low-eighties change as well. Although he found the zone with just nine of 21 first pitches, the 20-year-old rookie recorded five swinging strike outs to go with the one walk. His 53-to-38 strikes-to-balls ratio was acceptable, and seven of the eight times Toronto players swung and missed were bunched into the five at bats resulting in swinging K’s. Toronto reached him for six singles and a double and four runs, but one of the hits was the roller Mientkiewicz swore was an out.
But if Philip Hughes gets a pass, the Yankee team does not. They’ve been battering pitching routinely for four weeks, but they met their match in Burnett. A.J. started Damon off with a 99-mph fastball, and recorded 102 before the first frame was complete. I was dismayed to find Joe Torre’s lineup had the struggling Mientkiewicz batting second for Jeter, but the truth is that although Doug went hitless three times with a walk, he had good swings, lining hard foul his first two times up, and bidding for base hits in the fifth and eight with liners to left and center, respectively.
The Yanks reached the Toronto hurler for just four singles, and the only real excitement of the night came when Alex Rodriguez almost broke the all-time record for April home runs with a drive to dead center leading off the fourth. Alex also slashed a single to right in the second, Robby Cano delivered a multi-hop bouncer up the middle in the fifth, and Jason Giambi singled twice, though he was out trying to stretch a scorcher the other way against an overshifted infield in the fourth. Burnett allowed four walks and struck out five while pitching seven innings.
From a team perspective, the most unfortunate aspect of the troublesome fifth is that after a much needed day off it had the Yankee pen in the game much earlier than anyone wanted. Bruney was effective, and Mike Myers retired six of eight to close the last two innings, but in between those two Sean Henn and Scott Proctor struggled with their control. After a two-strike-out sixth, Henn walked the first two in the seventh. Proctor came on and filled the bases once he missed with his first four tosses, and by the time the dust cleared the Jays had plated runs five and six on a wild pitch and a sac fly.
After a shameful 2006 and one or two days this season mercilessly booing one of the best players to have ever played the game, Yankee fans are having a love fest with Alex Rodriguez, now that he is having an April for the ages. But his record month notwithstanding, the team is struggling and now will spend yet another day in last place. Unfortunately, the boo birds have not actually departed though; they’ve simply redirected their scorn toward the overworked bullpen. Although Henn and Proctor had the most trouble this night, titular lefty specialist Mike Myers was given the hardest time, not surprising after the grand slam he allowed Tampa’s Carl Crawford Tuesday cost the team a much-needed win. Mike routinely would throw to just one or two lefties and come out last year. This year he has been effective at pitching full innings to batters standing on both sides of the plate. But his newfound effectiveness against righties has come with a cost: all the hits he has allowed have been struck by lefties. He needs to refocus on the portside.
The teams stole seven bases between them, with Jason Phillips and Jorge Posada seeming to have trouble grasping the ball, as did Henn and Proctor. The conditions began chilly and grew continuously worse with the temperature dropping and a cold wind kicking up. Although the Yankees struggled yet again playing under poor conditions in their own ballpark, it’s worth pointing out that Burnett seemed to thrive in the cold. The only consolation was that Hughes was effective as well.