In case you don’t remember, it was a sunny Sunday afternoon in early June, the Yankees were finishing up a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park and the pitching matchup was Justin Verlander vs. Phil Hughes.
The expectations weren’t high coming into the game considering Verlander was the defending AL MVP and Cy Young winner and Hughes was, well, Hughes but something happened that shocked the heck out of everyone.
It started in the first inning on the first pitch of the game. Derek Jeter took Verlander deep to put the Yankees on the board before people could get settled into their seats.
That blast was followed by two walks, a passed ball and a strike out. With one out and runners on second and third, Mark Teixeira hit a sacrifice fly to put the Yankees up 2-0.
Hughes came in to pitch the bottom of the first and got the first two guys out. He walked Miguel Cabrera on five pitches though I’m sure with Prince Fielder waiting in the wings, people were holding their breath. Luckily they were able to exhale after Fielder hit a fly ball to left to end the inning.
Both pitchers escaped the second relatively unscathed and when the Yankees came up in the top of the third, Curtis Granderson got things started with a strikeout – surprisingly it was on six pitches and not three. Alex Rodriguez stepped in and worked the count to 3-1 before sending a Verlander offering into left-center field to put the Yankees up 3-0.
Hughes and Verlander pitched scoreless half innings in the bottom of the third and the top of the fourth respectively.
The first blow against Hughes came in the bottom of the fourth when Fielder sent a first-pitch offering into Canada to put the Tigers on the board. Hughes regrouped and was able to get the next three outs.
The Yankees scored again off Verlander in the top of the fifth following a Granderson double and a Cano triple. Cano advanced home on a throwing error by Danny Worth.
The score was 5-1 and that’s how it would remain.
But that’s not the most remarkable thing about that day in June. Phil Hughes ended up pitching a complete game. In fact, he got better as the day progressed.
He set the Tigers down in order in both the fifth and sixth innings. In the seventh he allowed one baserunner but got the third out two pitches later. He set them down in order once again in the eighth and only threw eight pitches.
Hughes started off the ninth by striking out Miguel Cabrera and getting Prince Fielder to ground out. He surrendered a two-out single to Delmon Young and then punctuated his complete game with a strikeout of Brennan Boesch.
Yes, Phil Hughes and Justin Verlander pitched and Hughes was the one who pitched a complete game. I joked on that day that it was opposite day.
Hughes’s numbers in Comerica as of that day were a 3-1 record with a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings pitched. He had given up seven walks, struck out 28 and the Tigers batters were only hitting .153 against him.
Since then he faced the Tigers in Comerica on August 7 and wasn’t so lucky. He only lasted 4.1 innings, gave up four runs on eight hits and had three strikeouts. The one positive stat from that particular start was that he only gave up one home run and it was to future Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
His numbers, while still a relatively small sample size, are pretty impressive in Detroit. Even with that August start thrown in he’s holding the Tigers hitters to a .193/.244/.345/.589 line in Comerica.
So which Phil Hughes will show up tonight in Comerica: the June 3rd version who was nearly lights out or the August 7th version who wasn’t so lights out? And will Hughes even matter if the lineup can’t get anything going against Verlander?
So many questions to be asked, so many answers to look forward to and only a few hours until we witness the outcome.