The last time Phil Hughes' ERA was below 4.00 was not as long ago as you might think -- it was 3.86 after his first start of the season, a 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8.
But the last time it was below 4.00 this late in a season? For that, you have to go back two full years, almost to the day. On Aug. 4, 2010, Hughes ran his record to 13-4 and dropped his ERA to 3.96 by beating the Toronto Blue Jays. Hughes wound up with an 18-8 record and 4.19 ERA that season, and no one could foresee anything but a bright future ahead.
New York Yankees
Today, his ERA is exactly the same, and his W-L record not too far off -- 11-8 -- after the Yankees' 12-3 win over the Orioles, a game in which Hughes worked six innings of one-run ball, although he did allow nine hits. And while no one expects 18 wins out of Hughes, he has shown remarkable improvement over 2011, when he finished 5-5 in an injury-filled season.
Still, even though the Yankees were thrilled that Hughes did not blow the big lead he was handed today the way Ivan Nova did Tuesday night, Hughes himself was not thrilled with his performance.
"I don't think I pitched very well today," he said. "I was more fortunate than anything, when I look at it. It could have been a lot worse. In a close game, who knows what happens there? It's probably a little bit different story."
The story of this one was written in the third inning, when the Yankees put up seven runs off starter Zach Britton and reliever Kevin Gregg on three walks and four hits, including a grand slam by Robinson Cano,"to take an 11-1 lead.
Hughes seemed most distressed that in three of his first four innings, he worked with two men on base, and in the third and fourth allowed singles to each of the first two batters. But he got a double play out of Chris Davis, Tuesday night's hitting star, to stifle the rally in the third, and worked his way out of trouble in the fourth on two flyouts and a looking strikeout of Omar Quintanilla.
"He did a good job managing innings today,'' Joe Girardi said. "He got a double play ball in one of the innings, he got some fly outs that weren't deep enough to advance runners, so I thought he did a pretty good job."
Hughes fastball ranged from 90-92 mph, and he struck out only two batters all day. He downplayed his accomplishment of joining CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in the sub-4.00 ERA club, especially in comparison to last season, when he finished up at 5.79.
""I try to throw last year out because it was such a disappointment, but I feel like I've been pitching pretty well lately, and it's one of the bonuses, I guess,'' Hughes said. "But it doesn't really matter what you've done, it's what you're going to do. That's how I look forward to these next couple of months. It's just finishing strong. No one really cares about numbers when you're going into August and September and the playoffs.''