Sunday, August 26, 2007


DETROIT -- Phil Hughes inched off the mound, his curveball not particularly well struck and searching for a left-field landfall. As a final lunge of desperation sent Hideki Matsui's cap floating to the grass, Hughes could do little but try to keep moving.

Curtis Granderson's inside-the-park home run started the afternoon poorly, but it was a pair of deeper blasts by Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames that really spoiled Hughes' day at Comerica Park. The homers helped the Tigers edge the Yankees on Sunday, 5-4.

"I knew right from the start that it was going to be a day I needed to battle," Hughes said.

Hughes, who has a 7.47 ERA in three day games, rebounded some from Granderson's second career inside-the-park home run, but not before leaving two regrettable fastballs over the plate.

The organization's highest-touted pitching prospect -- at least before Joba Chamberlain arrived on the scene to steal some thunder -- Hughes has impressed the Yankees by testing himself under the pressure of a pennant race, but it is that possibility of a postseason berth that places so much importance on each of his outings.

Hughes said he felt his strongest physically since returning from the disabled list earlier this month, but his results haven't matched up. Hughes is 0-1 with two no-decisions in his last three starts, and his final pitching line on Sunday seemed far too familiar to an upsetting homecoming start at Angel Stadium on Monday.

"This isn't about learning," Hughes said. "Obviously, you're going to learn along the way. I have the confidence that every time I go out there, I know I can win this game. Right now, we can't afford to lose, but it's going to happen sometimes. I never second-guess myself."

Matsui, who collided with a railing in foul territory before beginning his hatless dash to the corner, explained that he thought he had a chance to catch Granderson's hit.

"It wasn't hit that hard," Matsui said through an interpreter. "The ball was slicing further and further. Given his speed, I had a feeling that there would be a chance he would go all the way to home plate."

Indeed, Hughes might have survived if Granderson's 360-foot dash was the only black mark of the first inning. But four batters later, Guillen ripped a 3-1 fastball well past the grasp of any outfielder, clearing the wall in right-center field for a two-run homer.

Hughes left one other similar pitch out over the plate, a 1-1 offering to Thames -- a dead-red fastball hitter -- in the third inning, accounting for all of Detroit's scoring.

"I didn't give them much," Hughes said. "It was basically those two pitches."

Hughes finished his afternoon by retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced (the only exception being shortstop Wilson Betemit's error on a Granderson grounder in the fifth) to take the game into the seventh inning before handing off his 97-pitch effort to the bullpen. Hughes finished with six strikeouts and a walk, but the damage had been done: five runs on four hits.

Torre said that he had no concerns that Hughes was not equipped to handle duty at the Major League level. The mistakes that Hughes made on Sunday -- both of them, to listen to the pitcher's evaluation -- could have been committed by a pitcher with exponentially more service time.

"He understands he's playing for this club, we're in a pennant race and all these games are important," Torre said. "Yes, he's learning, but if we didn't think he could help us win, he wouldn't be out there."

Tigers starter Jair Jurrjens lasted just 1 1/3 innings in his first career start against the Yankees, leaving with a right posterior shoulder strain immediately after surrendering a solo home run to Jason Giambi, the slugger's 12th.

New York trailed, 5-1, going to the fourth, but Robinson Cano cut the deficit with one swing off reliever Chad Durbin, lifting a soaring fly ball that carried over the center-field wall for a three-run homer.

Bobby Seay (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings of relief before Detroit locked the game down with Joel Zumaya, making his third appearance since returning from a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo.

Zumaya recorded the final two outs of the seventh and set the Yankees down in the eighth, including a lucky play to begin the inning in which Melky Cabrera hit a line drive off the pitcher's foot. Third baseman Brandon Inge, who was playing in to guard against the bunt, scooped the ball and threw to first, retiring Cabrera, who again disobeyed a club edict by sliding headfirst.

"He has been reminded," Torre said, "and he will continue to be."

Zumaya completed the inning, pumping his fist wildly after striking out Alex Rodriguez, and Todd Jones recorded his 33rd save in the ninth inning, getting Cano to ground into a double play that featured pinch-runner Shelley Duncan flipping shortstop Ramon Santiago, but no other measurable impact.

The loss, the Yankees' fourth in six games on this trip, moved New York 2 1/2 games behind Seattle for the American League Wild Card and seven games behind division-leading Boston in the AL East.

After dropping an 11-inning decision at 3:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, plus suffering a 10-inning loss at Anaheim when catcher Ryan Budde came through with his second big league hit, the Yankees have had about enough close-game heartache.

"We've lost three tough games, and this was one of them," Torre said. "As long as we keep going out there with the determination that we're going out there with, hopefully we get a better result."

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