Phil Hughes had a plan. Of course he had a plan. This is a guy touted for his maturity, known for his willingness to work and prepare. He wasn’t going to make the biggest start of his career on a hunch and a prayer.
Hughes came into Game 3 knowing he was facing a lineup full of lefties, and believing he would need an effective changeup to neutralize them. Instead, pitching coach Dave Eiland said, Hughes threw his changeup a total of three times.
“The last couple of times out I threw a ton of changeups,” Hughes said. “I thought that was going to be the same plan going forward tonight, but they were swinging the bats early and I really didn’t get into too many deep counts so I just attacked with my fastball. Got ahead and from there I just did what I had to do. I thought it was going to be a different game as far as my pitch selection, but it went differently and I’m happy it did.”
Instead of his changeup, Eiland said it was Hughes fastball command that made the difference. Arguably his biggest pitch of the night — the one that generated a rare fist pump from Hughes — was the fastball that struck out Jason Kubel to end the sixth.
“I just really put everything I had behind that fastball hoping he either popped it up or missed it,” Hughes said. “Once I saw that he swung through it, it was just some emotion coming out.”
It was one of only two times Hughes was tested. He came back out for the seventh and sent the side down in order on nine pitches, not one of them the changeup he expected to need.
“He’s very smart,” Eiland said. “He’s a very wise pitcher. (The changeup) is there if he needs it, but he follows a scouting report. Jorge called an outstanding game behind the plate. Just because he has it and we want him to throw it doesn’t mean he’s going to throw it 10, 15 percent of the time every game.”
To put it even more simply: “He was outstanding,” Joe Girardi said.
Here’s the champagne-soaked Hughes from the middle of the Yankees clubhouse.
• Just to get it out of the way: Girardi said the Yankees have not discussedan ALCS roster and Eiland said they haven’t discussed an ALCS rotation.
• The Yankees are the first team to advance this postseason. “You don’t want to give anybody hope,” Derek Jeter said. “If you have a chance to close it out, you want to do it. We’ve taken the approach that every game was Game 5 and we had that feel today. It’s good to get it over with. It feels good but we still have a long way to go.”
• The Yankees have now won nine straight playoff games against the Twins. This is the first of the bunch in which they never trailed. “We had a great game plan,” Swisher said. “Watched a ton of film on Duensing the last couple of days. Obviously huge hits, that’s obviously the big thing.”
• Of the Yankees 33 hits this series, 10 were for extra bases. Marcus Thames hit the first career postseason home run, Swisher hit his second.
• The Yankees pitchers held the Twins to 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position this series, including an 0-for-14 stretch prior to Denard Span’s RBI single in the eighth.
• Hughes is the third Yankee to throw seven scoreless innings in his first postseason start joining Orlando Hernandez and Waite Hoyt. He’s the first Yankees starter of any kind to go seven scoreless in the playoffs since Mike Mussina in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.
• Jeter has reached base in his past 19 postseason games dating back to Game 4 of the 2007 ALDS. He had a hit in 18 of those 19 games.
• Joba Chamberlain was not used this entire seires. “It was just matchups,” Eiland said. “Matchups where, for example, guys hit sliders better than they hit curveballs. Things like that. Joba’s going to play a big part in this thing before we’re finished this year, and he understands that. He’s all in and so is everyone else.”
• The Yankees will take Sunday and Monday off. Their next workout will be Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. “We’re not young any more,” Jorge Posada said. “So we need a couple of guys to get a couple of days off and go get them on Friday again.”
• CC Sabathia usually thrives on short rest, but he’ll get extra rest once again, this time eight days. “I’ll take the rest,” he said. “I’m going to have to get used to it. It’s always good when you can close a game out here, first chance.”
• Swisher was asked when he knew Hughes would be alright tonight: “I got here this afternoon at 3:30,” Swisher said. “At 3:33 I saw Phil, and he was just chill, man. Cool as a cucumber. Obviously everybody knows in the postseason your emotions and everything can kind of get the best of you, but the way he went out there and pitched today for us, hats off man. He’s been doing it all season long, and very, very deserving for him.”
• Hughes was asked if this is a start he’ll always remember: “I hope not,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a World Series win that I’m remembering.”
Associated Press photos of Rodriguez, Hughes pitching, and Jeter celebrating on the field with Cano.