With the Major League Baseball postseason just one week away, we're doing our best to sleep as much as possible so we can make it through the nightly 3 a.m. bedtimes baseball playoffs force upon us. And to preview the Yankees' first postseason in two years, we're taking a daily look at players vital to the team's October success. Today: Phil Hughes.
The last time Phil Hughes saw postseason action, he was saving the 2007 season in a brilliant relief appearance during game three of the ALDS against Cleveland. Hughes went three and two thirds scoreless innings in relief of Roger Clemens that night, but since then has bounced between the bullpen, the rotation, and the disabled list more times than you can shake a pair of corrective lenses at.
For much of this year, though, he's filled a role no one would have expected: the elusive bridge to Mariano Rivera. For most of the summer, Hughes was automatic, pitching as well as the Yankees had always hoped he would, though not necessarily in the way they envisioned. He's cooled off in September: He blew his first save of the year on September 8, then blew two more over the next two weeks, though one of those was thanks to an unearned run in Anaheim. Still, he's filled the set-up-man role as well as anyone during Rivera's tenure as closer.
The Yankees' announcers like to wax poetic about 1996, when John Wetteland and Rivera turned games into six-inning affairs. That's not quite the case here; Rivera and Hughes won't be combining for three full innings very regularly. That said, Rivera's set-up man is bound to come up in a big spot in October. It happened in 2007 when Joba Chamberlain was attacked by insects, but we'll give him a pass for that because, well, he was being attacked by insects. And as much as we'd like to forget, there was Tom Gordon in 2004.
If a closer is critical to postseason success, then it stands to reason that the man responsible for getting him the ball is pretty important, too. One of the reasons this postseason might be different from the last several is that, for once, the Yankees have a reason to be confident in both of them.