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A big opportunity for Phil Hughes

10/11/2012 1:47 PM ET
By Joe Auriemma

Phil Hughes gets his chance to end the Orioles' season on Thursday night.(AP)
With a win or a loss in Game 3 for the New York Yankees, Joe Girardi was still going to give the ball to Phil Hughes in Game 4. After the exciting outcome in the come from behind Game 3 victory, Hughes now has a chance to take the mound and send the Baltimore Orioles home for good. Girardi has had confidence in his 16-game winner all along and now it's on Hughes to deliver in one of the biggest starts of his career.

On October 22, 2010, the Yankees and the Texas Rangers faced off in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series in an elimination game for the Yankees. Hughes took the mound and only went 4.2 innings, allowing four earned runs and ultimately losing the game for the Yankees.

Since then, Hughes has not had a postseason start and has not had the chance to get that bad taste out of his mouth. This start is a chance for some redemption for him.

“You don't really want to linger on the negative,” Hughes said of his last postseason start. “But every postseason start and things like that is an experience and something I can learn from. But it's a different team, different lineup, and I think I kind of know what to expect going into this, and that's something I can certainly learn from. It'll be nice having a little bit of experience going into this, but as far as drawing anything from their team specifically, it's kind of its own new experience.”

Against the Orioles this season, Hughes is 2-2, with a 4.76 ERA in 22.2 innings. However, in his last start at Baltimore on September 7, he gave the Yankees six strong frames en route to his 14th victory of the season. In fact, he blanked the Orioles for the first five innings of the game and had a 7-0 lead. It wasn't until the bottom of the sixth that he gave up his three runs via an Adam Jones three run blast. Even with the sting of that home run, Hughes pretty much dominated the Orioles lineup all evening. That is the kind of momentum against a ballclub that he has to bring into tonight's game four start.

“I remember it was probably the first or second game that I really used my slider quite a bit,” Hughes said of that start on September 7th. “I think that could be a big pitch against this team that really likes to hit the fastball. So yeah, I mean, it's a tough lineup. I remember it was a good atmosphere over there, and it's going to be the same tomorrow here.”

The 2012 season may have been an up and down for Hughes, but he has shown glimpses of putting it all together. He gave the Yankees 191.1 innings of work and battled through many tough situations. He's been here before, both as a reliever and a starter. He's pitched under the bright lights of the big ballpark in the Bronx for October baseball. Now it's up to Hughes to take that next step that all Yankees fans have been waiting for him to take and Thursday night sets up that perfect opportunity.

Follow Joe Auriemma on Twitter: @JoeAuriemmaYES

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