Electric Hughes nearly no-hits A's
Bid for history spoiled in eighth, but Yanks win sixth straight
OAKLAND -- Phil Hughes couldn't help but know that he might be possessing no-hit stuff. If the Athletics' feeble swings and quick trips back to the bench weren't telling him, the scoreboard glaring into the Yankees' dugout surely was.
Hughes carried that bid into the eighth inning before settling instead for his second win in as many starts this season, walking away on the good side of a 3-1 victory at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Wednesday as the Yankees won their sixth straight game.
Relying on a fastball that consistently sat around 93-94 mph and a biting cutter, Hughes racked up a career-high 10 strikeouts and allowed just one hit -- an Eric Chavez comebacker that struck Hughes' left forearm and came to rest safely between the plate and the mound.
"Obviously, I knew I hadn't given up a hit," Hughes said. "To have it end that way is kind of a bummer, but that's the game. I'm just happy to get out of here with a win."
Pitching in front of a crowd of 30,211 that included his parents on a cool evening in the Bay Area, the 23-year-old Hughes issued a first-inning walk to Daric Barton -- the second batter he faced -- for the only blemish on his line through seven frames.
"That's as good as it gets," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "His stuff was great tonight. He was ahead in the count all night, he put them on the defense, and his cutter was outstanding to lefties. His curveball was great, his fastball command was great. It was a brilliant performance."
Toeing the rubber for the eighth inning at 87 pitches and with a healthy chance to go up to his prescribed limit of 110-115 if he kept the bid intact, Hughes threw a first-pitch fastball away to Chavez, who hit it right back up the middle.
"It seemed like I was looking for the ball for about eight minutes," Hughes said. "It hit off my forearm, which was angled in such a way that I thought it went straight up. Obviously it didn't, and I couldn't find it in time. It's not really the way you want to give up a no-hitter, but that's the way it goes."
"I'm yelling, 'It's in front of you!'" first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I'm sure when he got hit, he just figured it was up in the air. It's unfortunate. He just pitched a great game. There's nothing we can do about it, but he hit the ball hard. If it doesn't hit Phil, it's up the middle for a hit anyway. It wasn't a cheap one, at least."
When Hughes exited later in the inning, he brushed the bill of his cap while looking up into the stands behind the first-base dugout. His parents, Phil Jr. and Dori, had made the drive from Santa Ana, Calif., and were his biggest fans -- among many -- on this evening.
"That was cool," Hughes said. "They weren't even going to come up, as it was. It's a pretty good drive from Southern California, so to have them up here was really special. I was happy I was able to give them something to cheer for."
Hughes was selected as the Yankees' fifth starter during Spring Training, outpitching competitors Joba Chamberlain, Alfredo Aceves, Sergio Mitre and since-released righty Chad Gaudin, who landed with the A's.
Hughes' improving changeup was pointed to at the time as a major factor in the decision, but his fastball and cutter were so good on Wednesday that catcher Jorge Posada didn't call for the changeup once, mixing in only a few curveballs along the way.
"When you look in the eighth, you understand and just hope he can get it done," Posada said. "He has worked hard, and I'm proud of him. I'm really proud of him."
A first-round Draft selection of the Yankees in 2004, Hughes had flirted with history before. In his second Major League start -- on May 1, 2007 -- Hughes tossed 6 1/3 hitless innings against the Rangers in Texas before being removed with a strained left hamstring.
Unlike Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who ventured 7 2/3 hitless innings on April 10 against the Rays at Tropicana Field, Hughes saw his bid go into the late innings without the benefit of an outstanding defensive play.
Perhaps most memorably, Teixeira dodged a broken bat on Ryan Sweeney's first-inning grounder that Robinson Cano fielded, with Hughes covering first base for the out.
The one run charged to Hughes crossed the plate after he left the game in favor of Chamberlain, who allowed a Jake Fox single with two outs in the eighth, bringing home Chavez. Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth inning for his 532nd career save.
The Yankees struck A's starter Ben Sheets for two runs in the fourth inning to support Hughes. Alex Rodriguez opened the frame with a line drive to right field that Sweeney dove for and missed, allowing the ball to roll to the wall as A-Rod slid in safely with a triple.
Cano followed with another triple that hugged the right-field line as the Yankees scored their first run, and Posada knocked in the second run on a groundout. Sheets completed six innings, scattering four hits while walking three and striking out four.
Capping a six-pitch at-bat against Tyson Ross, Brett Gardner gave the Yankees their third run in the top of the ninth, lining a two-out single down the left-field line to score Curtis Granderson, who had reached on a forceout.
While satisfied with the win, Hughes admitted that he was "a little frustrated" by taking the no-hit bid so deep without actually getting to realize the dream. Girardi said that the experiences of Wednesday's effort could only help to serve Hughes well in the future.
"It's something that you know you have the ability to perform at a very high level," Girardi said. "I think he felt that going into this year because of what he did last year. He knew that he could pitch very well. He was very impressive for us last year, and he's started off great this year."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.