Joe Girardi believed Phil Hughes gave him his best chance in a pivotal sixth inning Sunday.
Rather than compromise his bullpen, Girardi kept in his 13-win starter with the game in the balance, showing trust the youngster could retire Mark Reynolds. That would allow Girardi to start the mixing and matching with his bullpen in the most effective way.
That faith in Hughes proved to be misguided and ultimately resulted in the game's costliest decision.
Hughes stayed in Sunday's game one batter too long and gave up a three-run homer to Reynolds that gave Baltimore a lead it would not relinquish in an eventual 8-3 win. The Yankees led 3-2 before Hughes allowed the three-run homer that helped push the Orioles to within two games of the Yankees in the AL East.
"I thought that was Hughesy's guy to get out," Girardi said. "And he didn't do it."
Hughes had pitched brilliantly for four innings before running into some trouble in the fifth, giving up three hits including a solo homer to Reynolds. Despite that homer, Hughes had allowed just five hits through five and the Yankees led 3-1. He had struck out six and looked quite sharp as he mixed his pitches to keep Baltimore at bay.
Four batters in the sixth changed it all. A walk and two singles sliced the lead to 3-2 and put runners on the corners with no outs. That's when Girardi had to make his decision: pull Hughes or leave him in to face Reynolds, who was 1-for-2 at the time with a homer and a strikeout. Hughes, though, had allowed six of the past nine batters he faced to reach.
Girardi ultimately wanted to have lefty Boone Logan face the next hitter, Chris Davis, and then bring Cody Eppley in to face righty Manny Manchado. He preferred having Hughes face Reynolds before bringing in the bullpen, compared to having to bring in Eppley, then go to Logan and then bring in another right-handed pitcher to finish the inning. Girardi added that it would have been a different call had there been one out.
That bullpen plan Girardi envisioned never happened as Reynolds made the Yankees pay. Hughes described both of the homers as pitches he left over the middle of the plate. He gave up eight hits and five runs in and left after Reynolds' homer.
"The wheels just came off," Hughes said. "A lot of pitches finding the middle of the plate and everything was flat. Really, the two homers to Reynolds were the killers. Especially after getting that third run, it was important to shut down that inning and obviously it didn't happen."
After Hughes departed, the Yankees bullpen imploded, giving up three runs. While Eppley would pitch 1 1/3 scoreless innings, coming in right after Hughes departed, most of the other relievers, including Logan, couldn't get the job done. Just like the starting pitcher.
"He just stopped making pitches," Girardi said of Hughes. "Looked like he was getting too much of a part of the plate and was up in the zone and stopped making pitches."