On Wednesday night, free agent-to-be Phil Hughes made what was probably his last appearance in pinstripes, exiting in the third inning with the bases loaded and none out against the Tampa Bay Rays. He walked towards the dugout to the sound of cheers – Bronx cheers – for yet another short outing during which he got into trouble early.
No matter how poorly he’s pitched this year, Hughes did not deserve to be booed by the Yankee Stadium crowd.
He’s had a rough 2013, but so has every other New York Yankees starter. It’s not fair to single him out. He did not pitch terribly this year as much as he came up short. According to broadcaster Ken Singleton, Hughes got the count to 0-2 on 27 percent of the batters he faced this year, the highest rate in the AL. He was just unable to put them away.
His breaking ball was too inconsistent. He struggled this year because his curveball – his out pitch – usually either bounced in the dirt in front of home plate or hung up in the zone. The fact that he pitched in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the league didn’t help him.
It’d be one thing if Hughes had struggled for his entire career with the Yankees. If that were the case, the jeers would be justified.
But, there were days not too long ago when Hughes was one of the best pitchers on the staff. In 2009, if the Yankees were ahead in a game after the seventh inning, the game was essentially over as Hughes and Mariano Rivera lurked in the bullpen. Hughes went 8-3 in relief that year and his 3.03 ERA was second best on the team behind Rivera.
That team won 103 ballgames en route to a World Series title, and Hughes was right in the middle of it as the eighth-inning man. The following year, he went 18-8 as a starter and was named to the All-star team. Not a bad encore.
By no means did Hughes deserve the ovation Andy Pettitte received on Sunday, and his performance this year left much to be desired, to say the least. But the Yankee Stadium crowd should have shown more appreciation for a man who was an integral part of the Yankees’ most recent championship team.