Six-run ninth helps strong Hughes defeat Yanks
Righty throws eight innings of two-run ball before Twins rally for victory
NEW YORK -- It was exactly the kind of start the Twins wanted to see from Phil Hughes in his return to Yankee Stadium, but it looked like the right-hander was going to leave the Bronx empty handed with a hard-luck loss.
Hughes continued his impressive run of success, and the Twins rallied for six runs in the ninth inning -- five against closer David Robertson -- to escape New York with a 7-2 win in the series finale on Sunday afternoon.
Hughes, pitching against his former team for the first time since joining the Twins on a three-year deal worth $24 million in the offseason, turned in eight strong innings to register his eighth straight quality start and pick up the last-minute win. Hughes, 6-1 overall, is now 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA over his last seven outings with 39 strikeouts, three walks and just two homers allowed in 54 1/3 innings.
"It was a little bit more nerves than usual, but luckily I was throwing strikes early," Hughes said. "It was a half-inning away from being a different story, but the guys rallied there in the ninth. So it was a solid win for us."
The right-hander gave up two runs on just three hits and two walks with six strikeouts, but he insisted the victory didn't mean any more to him despite playing the first seven years of his career in pinstripes.
"I don't think it means more than any other start," Hughes said. "This game can be pretty cruel sometimes and I went through that last year, so I never take any wins for granted. So I try to view this as another win and a positive outing to keep it rolling. There were some emotions before the game, but the satisfaction postgame is equal to any other win."
The Twins got to Robertson in the ninth, as he blew his second save. Josh Willingham led off with a homer on a first-pitch cutter to tie the game, before Robertson walked Kurt Suzuki and Aaron Hicks to set the stage for a go-ahead RBI double from Brian Dozier with two outs.
"It was a bad day," Robertson said. "I fell behind on hitters, I couldn't make pitches with my curveball, I was just missing with my fastball, a little off or a little down."
Dozier was happy to provide the game-winning RBI, especially because it gave Hughes the win after his eight strong innings.
"He's been throwing the ball better than anybody in the league if you ask me," Dozier said. "He just gets ahead and fills up the zone. He's been doing a great job. So for us to come back like that and get him the win was big."
Eduardo Nunez followed with a two-run double off reliever Matt Daley after the Yankees intentionally walked Joe Mauer to load the bases, and Oswaldo Arcia added a two-run single.
"I knew they were going to walk Mauer, so I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and do my job," said Nunez, who played with the Yankees from 2010-13. "I know the manager trusted me, so that's why he had me in there."
Hughes did see his streak of 178 batters without issuing a walk come to an end in the second, when he walked Brian McCann on seven pitches for his first free pass since April 20. But Hughes was able to get out of that inning unscathed, as Dozier turned an impressive double play with a sliding effort at second base.
Hughes wasn't as lucky in the fourth, as he gave up his first hit of the game on a leadoff triple by Brett Gardner off the wall in right-center field. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single to right field before Jacoby Ellsbury singled and McCann walked a second time to load the bases with nobody out.
Hughes got Yangervis Solarte to pop out to short for the first out, but the Yankees took the lead on a sacrifice fly by Ichiro Suzuki to center field. But it was the only run he allowed after loading the bases, and he settled down from there, retiring the last 15 batters he faced before handing it off to Caleb Thielbar, who tossed a scoreless ninth.
"He established his fastball and used his cutter the first time through before mixing in some curveballs," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So that's what we've been seeing from him the last four or five starts. It's fun to watch. He's under complete control."
Right-hander Chase Whitley threw five innings for the Yankees, giving up one run on five hits with six strikeouts but was saddled with a no-decision.
The Twins scored their only run against Whitley in the third on a two-out RBI single by Trevor Plouffe, scoring Hicks. The Twins went just 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position against Whitley, including 0-for-3 in the second after Arcia singled and Willingham was hit by a pitch with nobody out.
But the Twins scored when it mattered most in the ninth, and they came away with their second straight series victory in New York after also taking two out of three last year.
"It was a big win for us," Gardenhire said. "To score six runs against that bullpen in the ninth was pretty impressive, and so was winning two out of three here."