1) Phil Hughes made his third major league start for the Yankees after more than three months on the disabled list.
2) Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th career home run after 37 homerless plate appearances.
4) The Yankees beat the Royals 16-8 extending their streak of scoring seven or more runs at home to eight games.
5) The Yankees closed within 1.5 games of the Wild Card lead as Cleveland, Detroit, and Seattle all lost.
5) Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron's all-time home run record with his 755th career dinger.
I'll take the second part first. After Johnny Damon grounded out leading off the first inning, Derek Jeter singled, and Bobby Abreu walked on four pitches to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate with one out and two on. Kyle Davies' first pitch was an 89-mile-per-hour fastball right down the middle and Alex jerked it down the left field line, a high looping hook shot that managed to stay fair, landing in the left field stands toward the back of the main boxes behind the Canon sign where it was caught by a still-anonymous Rutgers student. Rodriguez, unsure if the ball would go foul, stood at the plate, bat in hand. As the ball approached the stands he began to trot, still watching, toward first. Speeding up, he thrust both fists in the air when the ball landed, gave first base coach Tony Peña a high-ten, and proceeded to jubilantly round the bases "like a goofball," as he would say after the game. Rodriguez was greeted behind home plate by the entire Yankee bench, which congratulated him with high-fives and hugs. Once settled in the dugout, Rodriguez wore an ecstatic grin of exhilaration and relief and was seen repeatedly saying "I'm glad it's over" to buddies Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. Me too, Alex, me too.
For his part, Phil Hughes picked up where he left off in the early innings, dominating the Royals with the laser-guided control and late movement of his fastball in the first and second innings. Hughes pitched a 1-2-3 first, striking out Mark Grudzielanek swinging on four pitches and reaching only one two-ball count. In the second he walked leadoff hitter Billy Butler after getting ahead 0-2 do to a tight strike zone by home plate ump Jerry Meals, but rebounded by striking out the next three men, again only reaching one two-ball count.
Things didn't go quite as well in the third. Joey Gathright lead off by flaring an 0-1 pitch into left field that Hideki Matsui was so convinced landed foul that he initially failed to pursue the ball, but still managed to hold the speedy Gathright to a double. Hughes threw his next pitch past Jorge Posada to put Gathright on third anyway, but got Jason LaRue to pop out to hold the runner at third. When the lineup turned over, however, David DeJesus hit a groundball single up the middle to plate Gathright and, after Grudzielanek moved DeJesus to second on a groundout, Mark Teahen flared another double to shallow left to plate DeJesus, cutting the Yankee lead in half at 4-2 (the Yanks had added a fourth run in the first after Rodriguez's homer on a Matsui double and a Cano triple).
Hughes had better luck in the fourth, erasing a Ross Gload single that whizzed past his head with a double play grounder and then ending things with his fifth strikeout. Through his first four innings, Hughes had recorded his twelve outs on five strikeouts, five groundballs (including that double play), and a pop out. The two doubles he allowed were flares down the left field line, and of the two singles he allowed, one was a well-placed ground ball. Gload's line-drive single leading off the fourth was the only hard hit ball he had allowed. Hughes had also thrown 70 percent of his pitches for strikes through the first four innings and walked just one man, but he hadn't been especially efficient, throwing 71 pitches through those first four. Between the sweltering heat and humidity and the excitement and pressure of returning to the major leagues, it seems Hughes, who had topped out at 91 pitches on his rehab assignment, simply tired early.
Hughes started the fifth by walking Gathright on five pitches. Jason LaRue then hit the first fly out of the game off Hughes. DeJesus, in his third look at the Yankee rookie, followed by jerking a two-run home run down the left field line, a shot that likely traveled little more than 320 feet, but a hard hit line drive nonetheless. Fortunately the Yankees had plated two more in the bottom of the fourth and thus maintained a 6-4 lead, but after Grudzielanek flared an out to right, Teahen singled on a bounder up the middle, and Butler laced a double into the gap in right center to score him to make it 6-5. With Hughes at 92 pitches and throwing his low-90s fastball in the high-80s, Joe Torre ended his outing there.
Hughes' final line greatly resembles his line from his debut:
In both cases, Hughes was making a pressure backed debut at Yankee Stadium, and in both games he appeared to fatigue quickly. While there may have been less pressure on Hughes in yesterday's game, the heat and the gradual workload increases of his rehab stint made his fatigue even more understandable. Early in the game, Hughes looked every bit like the phenom who was no-hitting the Rangers in his second major league start. His fastball was low-90s with late movement and pinpoint location. His curve was high-60s with a nasty break and similarly precise location, allowing him to drop it into the zone for called strikes or have it dive into the dirt for swinging strikes, while contact with the curve almost always resulted in a groundball. He later mixed in his changeup which split the difference at around 80 miles per hour. To that end, I would say that Hughes actually pitched better yesterday than he did in his debut. What did him in was the fatigue, which saw him lose location and velocity on his fastball, which began to stay up (DeJesus's homer was an 88-mile-per-hour fastball that floated up in the zone). Prior to that, however, he didn't seem to be particularly effective in mixing his pitches, which allowed the Royals to do more damage against his fastball the second time through the order, and more still the third time through.
I would expect Hughes, Posada, and Guidry to improve the pitch selection for Hughes next start, and would also expect Hughes to be stronger, both because he's now had two consecutive 90-pitch outings, but also because the nerves and sweltering heat that accompanied yesterday's game are unlikely to follow him to Cleveland.
Back to the game, facing Mike Myers, Yankee Killer Ross Gload doubled home Butler to tie the game at 6-6, but the Yankees took the lead right back with a run off reliever John Bale in the bottom of the inning. Brian Bruney then struck out the side in the top of the sixth and the Yankees, perhaps noticing that Kyle Farnsworth was warming up in a one-run game, dropped a four-spot in the bottom half on a leadoff home run to dead center by Bobby Abreu and a series of two-out hits by Robinson Cano, Wilson Betemit (who played first base for the first time in the major leagues yesterday), and Melky Cabrera following a two-out walk by Jorge Posada. Good thing, too, as Farnsworth did indeed give up that one run in the seventh.
Zack Greinke started the bottom of the seventh for the Royals and failed to retire a batter, allowing a double to Derek Jeter on his first pitch followed by three straight singles and a four-pitch walk to Jorge Posada. Coming on in supposed relief, Jimmy Gobble gave up a single and a double before getting an unusual 9-2 double play when Meals ruled that Robinson Cano failed to touch home plate attempting to score on a fly out to right (the replays were inconclusive) and striking out Johnny Damon to end a nine-pitch battle.
It was subs in at that point as Luis Vizcaino, who must have been warming when it was a "tight" four-run game, worked a scoreless eighth and Ron Villone rounded out the scoring by allowing a run in the ninth driven in by, who else, Ross Gload. Gload is now 11 for 19 with four doubles and six RBIs against the Yankees this season.
Today the Yanks look for a sweep in a rematch of this game.
Finally, here's an update on impending call-ups Joba Chamberlain and Jason Giambi from Pete Abe. For those too lazy to click, in four relief innings, Chamberlian has faced the minimum 12 batters, one singled and was caught stealing, one of them made some other kind of out, and ten of them struck out. Giambi, meanwhile, not only has one homer and a .481 OBP in his rehab assignment, but has been playing solid defense per the first update here.