So the Yankees now lead the Rays by 2 1/2 games, matching their largest advantage since July 27 in this AL East race. The Yankees have 11 games left, and Tampa Bay has 12. With the Red Sox losing, the Yankees’ magic number to at least clinch a postseason berth is three and the Rays’ magic number is six.
Phil Hughes allowed three runs, four hits and five walks in 6 1/3 to pick up his 17th win. He’s just the second Yankees pitcher to win at least 17 games at the age of 24 or younger. Andy Pettitte was the first with 21 wins in 1996.
But Hughes is now at 169 1/3 innings. His innings limit hasn’t been revealed publicly, but it has been steadily rumored to be in the 170-175 range. Joe Girardi was noncommittal about his final two starts.
“That’s something we’ll continue to talk about as we move forward here,” the manager said. “Tonight was a big win for us and a big win for him. … Seventeen (wins). A guy who came in to be our fifth starter has thrown the ball awful well for us.”
Hughes lost to the Rays 4-3 last Wednesday in Tampa Bay. So this was his second start since being skipped.
“Everybody wanted to say how it was going to hurt me,” Hughes said. “I just took the approach of using it and taking it as a positive. I felt like I got a lot of things on track. I still wasn’t great tonight, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.”
Hughes lost last time thanks to a pair of two-run homers to Dan Johnson. This time, he retired him all three times he faced him, including on a bouncer to first with two on in the third. He used a changeup to get him there. He went with that pitch a lot.
“I probably threw more than I have all year,” Hughes said. “It was effective for me and hopefully something I can build on.” …
Derek Jeter seems to be perking up at the right time, now 11 for his last 30 after going 2 for 5 with an RBI double. He made some adjustments recently with hitting coach Kevin Long.
“Don’t count Derek Jeter out in the month of September or the postseason if we’re fortunate enough to get there,” Girardi said. …
Javier Vazquez pitched for the first time since Sept. 10, his final start before being dropped from the rotation. While he said he understood Girardi going with other guys in relief, he didn’t sound thrilled with the 10 days without an appearance.
“As a competitor, it’s disappointing,” Vazquez said. “I can’t hide that fact. I’m happy they used me today. … Hopefully I’ll prove him wrong and he’ll start using me.”
Vazquez is just hoping to be included on the postseason roster. He gave up an RBI bloop single to Carl Crawford after he relieved Hughes with one out in the seventh and a man on second. Then he pitched out of the inning. He gave up singles to his first two batters in the eighth, then got Carlos Pena on a fly to center before exiting in favor of Joba Chamberlain.
With Mariano Rivera working the previous two days, it was Chamberlain picking up his third save. He gave up an infield hit to load the bases, then nailed down the final two outs in that eighth before throwing a 1-2-3 ninth.
Vazquez, by the way, didn’t fan anyone in getting three outs, the first time he failed to strike out a batter since May 10, 2000, when he was in a Montreal Expos uniform and pitching against the Phillies. It snapped a streak of 349 appearances with at least one strikeout, so he’s tied for the third-longest streak with Doc Gooden. Nolan Ryan has the record at 382 and Randy Johnson is second at 351.
Wednesday night, it will be A.J. Burnett starting for the Yankees and Wade Davis for the Rays. That’s it for tonight.