Down the stretch and into the playoffs last season, opposing pitchers struggled to figure out a way to retire Raul Ibanez when he was a designated hitter for the Yankees.
Last night, Phil Hughes experienced that frustration by allowing a grand slam to Ibanez during a start that lasted 36 pitches.
The Yankees were handed a 12-2 loss to the Mariners that could easily qualify for their worst performance of the season.
"When I tried to go to changeup, slider, curveball, it seemed like nothing was there,” Hughes said.
Ibanez hit a pair of home runs and drove in six RBIs, but it was his grand slam which set the course for a rare lopsided loss for the Yankees.
Ibanez created his place in Yankees lore with numerous highlights, including becoming the first player to hit three home runs in the ninth inning or later in the same playoff series.
“You can’t help but to think about that,” Ibanez said. “That obviously was a big moment as a team over there and something I never forget. So I definitely remember that. But at the same time last year is over and you’ve got to move on and my job is to try and help this team win. So I try to just have good quality at-bats.”
On Tuesday, Ibanez hit a two-run home run against CC Sabathia that at the time provided the Mariners with two key runs in what was seemingly going to be a 3-1 victory that ultimately became a 4-3 defeat.
A night later, in his third career at-bat against Hughes, Ibanez helped ensure a more comfortable outcome for the Mariners by sending a 0-1 curveball just over the right-center field wall. The homer put the Yankees in a 6-0 hole and continued a troubling outing for Hughes.
"I don't get frustrated,” manager Joe Girardi said. “This is a hard game. I think sometimes people want to make this seem like you have a Nintendo controller in your hand and you can control the baseball. It's not that simple.
“For whatever reason, I mean, Phil's a guy that pitches up and we know that. But today, I didn't see the tape, but there were probably too many balls in the middle of the plate and he didn't locate enough pitches and he got hurt."
Up to that point, Hughes did not appear to have much movement on his fastball and it showed when he gave up three straight singles ahead of a walk to Justin Smoak.
"It's tough,” Hughes said. “It seems to go by very quick and everything kind of speeds up. You're just trying to find something, and the next thing you know you've got two outs and seven runs are in."
“We pretty much threw everything out there and he didn't really have a feel for any of his pitches, unfortunately,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “It seems like sometimes if you can get him through that first inning, he goes out and settles down after that. But we couldn't get him through that. It happens and hopefully he comes back next time and finds it."
Hughes came within one run of equaling his career worst in runs allowed. His career worst came in Baltimore on May 9, 2009 when he gave up eight runs in 1 2/3 innings.
"I don't think I've had a worse start in my career, so it stings a little bit," Hughes said.
The Yankees’ bullpen had extended its scoreless innings streak to 27 1/3 innings, the longest since 1998, before Ibanez struck again for a two-run shot to left field with one out in the fifth off Brett Marshall.
Marshall gave the Yankees five innings but by the time they needed to get the final out of the ninth, shortstop Alberto Gonzalez was on the mound.
"We need one out,” Girardi said. “It's not something I want to do, but for me to bring in another pitcher. I think it doesn't make a lot of sense there.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.