ARLINGTON -- The worst fear Phil Hughes had will not come to fruition. The forgettable start he produced in Game 2 of this American League Championship Series will not be his final act of an otherwise breakout 2010 season.
Instead, Hughes will take the ball for Friday night's Game 6 back in Arlington at 8 ET on TBS -- the latest Yankees' starter with a chance to save the season.
CC Sabathia pitched poorly in Game 1 -- only to redeem himself with six gritty innings in Game 5. Now, Hughes gets that same chance.
"Obviously [Sabathia] did what we needed him to do," Hughes said. "We could not afford to lose another game, obviously, and we needed that win, and he came through for us. You know, judging by Game 1 and then how things didn't go our way, or his way, and then obviously Game 2, where it was the same story for me, it's encouraging to see that bounce-back outing, and hopefully I can have something similar."
The 3-1 series hole is now a more manageable 3-2, and Hughes can force Game 7 on Saturday by silencing the Rangers.
"I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to hopefully turn in a better start than last time and get a little payback in a sense," Hughes said. "My last one, I was horrible. I was just thankful that wasn't my last opportunity of the season. I'm looking to turn in a better one."
That shouldn't be hard. As Hughes would be the first to admit, he can't be much worse.
With a chance to give his team a 2-0 series lead, Hughes faltered right from the outset, being pounded for 10 hits and seven runs over four-plus innings. He took the loss.
"I was kind of erratic around the strike zone for the most part," Hughes said. "I gave them a lot of good pitches to hit over the plate. If there's one thing I can change, I think that's it. Every time I have a bad outing, usually it's command issues."
Hughes should be able to tell fairly early in Game 6 if it's going to be a different story. He knows his checkpoints.
"Executing my pitches down and away, getting ahead, not getting behind in counts and mixing in my offspeed pitches when I need to," Hughes said.
After witnessing an 18-8 season from Hughes, not to mention a brilliant AL Division Series clincher against the Twins, the Yankees seem to have little doubt that the 24-year-old righty will put forth a far more competitive effort.
"I expect a good game," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "Phil didn't have the best performance in Game 2, and I think he's looking forward to a great battle."
The Rangers, too, know that they can't be lulled into thinking Hughes will give them the same meaty pitches to hit that they did in Game 2.
"He was aggressive," Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "You know, he threw fastballs, and when he figured out that we could hit a fastball, he started throwing breaking pitches. So we'll see what he thinks now."
For his part, Hughes looks forward to holding up his end of the bargain in that chess match.
"Obviously coming back, I'm facing the same team again, and something's got to change," Hughes said. "I have to make some adjustments, and that's the key. I think whoever makes the adjustments is going to come out on top. You know, I'm just thrilled to have this opportunity again. It wasn't guaranteed I would have another start in the series, and I'm just happy to be able to pitch tomorrow and turn in a better start than my last one."
One thing that could have hindered Hughes in Game 2 is that the start came after six days of rest.
"It's hard to say whenever you look at extra rest and how it affects a player," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But some guys are really routine-oriented, and I expect him to have much better command of all of his stuff tomorrow, because it is, basically, his fifth day -- where I think it was his seventh day before. Last time he had extra rest, we were able to throw him an inning of relief, but we weren't able to do that. So I'm looking forward to his start tomorrow and better command."
The 187 1/3 innings Hughes has logged this season -- including the postseason -- is easily his career high. But Hughes made it clear he is not wearing down.
"I certainly haven't noticed any wear or fatigue or anything like that," Hughes said. "Coming into the season, I wasn't sure how my body was going to react to throwing that many innings. To be perfectly honest with you, I feel great, and when you come out and you have the adrenaline of a big playoff game like these are, any little aches and pains or whatever you have go away. That's the nice thing about this point in the season: You are out there and every time you take the mound you feel 100 percent. It's just about calming those nerves and executing pitches."