If Phil Hughes were to rank his top regular-season starts from best to worst, he would place his complete game on June 3 in Detroit near the top of the list.
The performance was Hughes’s only career nine-inning complete game and he outpitched Justin Verlander in doing so. Hughes allowed a solo home run to Prince Fielder among four hits, but also struck out eight while throwing a career-high 123 pitches.
Now he just has to do it again — in quite possibly the biggest start of his career — with the Yankees in a 0-2 hole in the ALCS.
“I remember it actually started off slow in that start and it was a struggle for me to get going — almost similar to my last start against Baltimore,” Hughes said yesterday on a conference call. “I remember I got stronger as the game went on and I was able to command the ball a little bit better. So, hopefully [today] there’s a little of a similarity in the fact that I can command the ball and hopefully early and often. It’s a tough lineup and I’m going to have to be on top of my game, but I have confidence that I will be and I look forward to it.”
However, there is a caveat. The next time Hughes pitched in Detroit, he allowed four runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings while throwing 102 pitches against the lineup he is most likely to face tonight.
Verlander was 5-4 after losing to Hughes in June, but since that point, he is 14-4 with a 2.43 ERA over 23 starts.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re facing,” said Mark Teixeira, who is 3-for-31 all-time against Verlander. “As a hitter, you want to face familiar pitchers, even if he happens to be the best pitcher on the planet now and maybe the best pitcher in the last 10, 15 years.
“The biggest thing is familiarity. We know what he will do to us. He will throw it 100 miles an hour; mix in a good curveball and a good changeup. It sounds like a tough job, but we have risen to the occasion before and are hoping to do it again.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.