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Hughes 'looking forward' to Game 3 assignment

With Yanks down 0-2, righty knows he must get his "Phil" tonight
10/16/2012 12:13 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

The Yankees need a strong performance out of Phil Hughes in Tuesday's Game 3.(AP)
The last time the Yankees and Tigers met in a postseason game at Detroit’s Comerica Park, the New Yorkers were in a similar “do-or-die” situation. Heading into Game 4 of the 2011 ALDS, the Yankees were down 2-1 in the best-of-five series, and with their offense struggling, they trusted their season's fate to a pitcher whose scouting report had ranged from “maddeningly inconsistent” at best to “fan-base whipping boy” at worst throughout the year.

But that day, in what turned out to be his final start in pinstripes, A.J. Burnett gave the Yankees 5 2/3 strong innings of one-run baseball, and the team broke out for a 10-1 victory that sent the series back to the Bronx for a deciding Game 5.

One year later, Game 3 of the ALCS is not as mathematically urgent, per se, as Game 4 of the 2011 ALDS, but it may be more so mentally; if they win, the Yankees are down 2-1 and have ace CC Sabathia heading to the mound for Game 4...but if they don’t, they’re down in an 0-3 hole, and to see the World Series, they must come back from a deficit that’s been overcome just once in 100-plus years of postseason baseball.

This time, it will be Phil Hughes – one of this year’s favorite targets after an up-and-down season – who takes the hill at Comerica looking to keep the Yankees out of a chasm that history says they’re very unlikely to recover from, and the above said, Hughes explained that even given the circumstances, he has to treat Game 3 as if it were any other start.

“There's always questions that come with every start, and I don't really feel like I can, you know, sort of feel any added pressure just because of the circumstances,” Hughes said during a media conference call on Monday. “I just have to go out there and pitch, and not really worry that we’re down 0-2, that Verlander is on the mound, or that we don't have our Captain.”

And even if it is his most pressure-packed start of the season, the 26-year-old righty welcomes the chance.

“I do (welcome the situation); you're going to get a little more adrenaline from that,” Hughes added. “Obviously we don't want to go into the series over there down 0-2, but there's nothing we can do about that now. I just have to put together a good start and trust our guys are going to score some runs. But yeah, I do enjoy that pressure and the opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it.”

History is on Hughes’ side somewhat, as he does have two starts against Detroit this season to draw on, one of which was a dominant complete-game victory that saw him outduel Verlander in a 5-1 Yankees win.

“I remember I actually started off a little bit slow in that start, and it was kind of a struggle for me to get going, almost similar to my last start against Baltimore. And then I remember I got stronger as the game went on and I was able to command the ball a little bit better,” Hughes recalled about the game. “So hopefully (Tuesday) there's a little bit of a similarity in the fact that I can command the ball and hopefully command it early and often.”

Burnett rewarded Joe Girardi’s confidence in him last October, and Hughes said that while the Yankees skipper sticking with him (instead of going to Sabathia on three days’ rest) obviously helps his psyche, it's still up to him to finish the job.

“It’s nice to know the manager of the organization is behind you. And, like I said, it's a great opportunity, and I feel like if we can win this Game 3, we'll have a good chance with CC going,” Hughes said. “So it's nice to have that and have that vote of confidence, but I am still going to have to go out and execute.

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