Complete game completes successful trip
As a fan of old-time baseball, I find very little I enjoy more than watching a starting pitcher shake a catcher’s hand after getting the 27th out of a game. For those who have been weaned on pitch counts and Tony La Russa-inspired bullpen overuse, the site of a starter still on the mound for a game’s final out is something known as a complete game, which is just what the Yankees got out of Phil Hughes Sunday in a 5-1 Yankees victory at Detroit.
How unusual was what happened at Comerica Park as the Yankees ended their three-city trip with a 6-3 record? It was the first nine-inning complete game for Hughes, who made his 82nd major-league start. And it was the first complete game for any Yankees pitcher since July 10 last year by CC Sabathia against the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
Yeah, I know, I know; it’s a different game today; protect pitchers’ arms, blah, blah, blah. It is nonetheless extremely satisfying to see a pitcher enjoy an afternoon that Hughes had Sunday. It has been a bumpy season for the righthander with suggestions being made that he may be better served in the bullpen. Hughes, who improved his record to 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA, certainly gave evidence to his supporters in the Yankees’ front office that he belongs in the rotation.
Make no mistake; this was a tense match-up for Hughes, who was paired against last year’s American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander, who had not lost three decisions in a row since 2008. Until Sunday, that is. The book on Verlander is to try to get to him early before he gets into a groove and starts playing with 100 miles per hour on the radar gun.
The Yankees did their best to do that. Derek Jeter homered on the first pitch of the game. It ended a homerless drought of 105 at-bats since May 4 for the Captain. How’s that for an early jump? Verlander followed that with two walks, very uncharacteristic, and gave up a second run on a sacrifice fly by Mark Teixeira. That turned out to be all the offense Hughes needed.
The only run the Tigers managed off Phil was Prince Fielder’s ninth home run off a first-pitch curve in the fourth inning. Detroit got only one other base runner to second base in the game, and that was on a first-inning passed ball by Russell Martin. Hughes held the Tigers to three other hits, all singles, and three walks with eight strikeouts.
The Yankees had another dreadful day with runners in scoring position (1-for-11; they are down to .219 in 448 at-bats in the clutch for the season), but the stat for this game proved insignificant as the Yankees kept up the attack on Verlander, whose record fell to 5-4 with a 2.67 ERA. Alex Rodriguez smoked a 447-foot home run off the back wall of Comerica Park in left-center in the third inning.
Detroit’s shaky defense hurt Verlander in the fifth when the Yankees added two runs. Curtis Granderson, who doubled, was able to score on a two-out fly ball to right-center by Robinson Cano that probably should have been caught but fell between center fielder Quintin Berry and right fielder Brennan Boesch for a triple, ironically the Yankees’ lone hit with a runner in scoring position. Cano scored on the play as well on a throwing error by second baseman Danny Worth, who was not aided by third baseman Miguel Cabrera’s ole swipe at the ball that ended up in the photographers’ well next to the Detroit dugout.
For the pitch-count geeks, Hughes’ total Sunday was 123. It is merely a number. What should be given greater consideration is how a pitcher gets to a certain number of pitches. In Hughes’ case, he had a free and easy afternoon. His reward was a simple handshake, something I wish was a lot more frequent in the modern game.