Elimination day began with manager Joe Girardi reflecting on the tenure of Phil Hughes, someone who was so highly regarded that the Yankees would not include him in potential trades for Miguel Cabrera or Johan Santana.
That was after the 2007 season, when Hughes made his major-league debut. The idea was he would be the first All-Star starting pitching prospect developed and retained by the Yankees since Andy Pettitte.
Hughes was an All Star and an 18-game winner three years ago, following up a tremendous stint as a setup man for a World Championship team. But even though the 27-year-old is entering the prime years of his career, Hughes is likely headed toward being a former Yankee following a disappointing season that ended with last night’s 8-3 loss to the Rays. That, coupled with Cleveland’s win over the White Sox, officially eliminated the Yankees from postseason contention.
Hughes isn’t the sole reason the Yankees were officially eliminated last night. There are others, and the Yankees will have plenty of time to reflect upon what went wrong.
“He’s done a lot of really good things for us,” Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate that this year didn’t turn out the way we wanted for him but hopefully as a player, for Phil, that he takes something from this year and finds a way to get back on track.”
No matter what the final result was for the Yankees Wednesday, they were facing elimination when Hughes gave up the go-ahead run on a sharply hit single by David DeJesus with none out in the third. The Indians held a 2-1 lead at the time, which grew to 4-1 on a two-run homer by former Yankee Nick Swisher.
Hughes’ final line of a lost season was three runs and seven hits in two-plus innings. He was gone four batters into the third and when he walked off the mound following his final 51 pitches of the season the crowd sounded indifferent.
It marked the 14th time Hughes failed to finish five innings this season, something no Yankee has ever done and something that nobody has done since Sean Bergman for the 1995 Tigers.
“It’s tough,” Hughes said. “It’s definitely tough. It’s hard to think about right now.”
In the end, an absurd amount of injuries did in the Yankees. They suited up a franchise-record 56 players but nobody was prepared to use that as an excuse for missing postseason.
“I don’t think that way,” closer Mariano Rivera said. “We have to do our best. I think we did our best the whole year.”
“I’ll never think that way,” Girardi said. “I don’t care who the guys are in that room. When you put that uniform on, you’re a big-league player and I believe you have a chance to make the postseason and when you don’t make it, it’s disappointing.”
The game plodded on slowly and Evan Longoria officially sent the Yankees out of their misery with a long home run over the left field wall that made it 6-2. On the next pitch, David DeJesus homered and as Girardi came out to get David Huff out, there was little booing.
By the time the Yankees made things remotely interesting for fans, the Indians had a 7-2 lead. The Yankees had two out and the bases loaded for pinch hitter Lyle Overbay but just as he walked, the Indians closed out the game and at 10:15 p.m. last night the Yankees were officially eliminated.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.