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Phil Hughes Makes His Case for an October Rotation Spot

Entering last night's game, the Yankees had scored at least five runs in 17 of Phil Hughes's 27 starts. In last night's 8-3 win, they got that out of the way in the bottom of the first. Hughes, the likely fourth starter but perhaps the first seventeen-game winner who's ever had to prove he deserves a spot in a playoff rotation, made a solid case by allowing three runs over six and a third innings, trusting his change-up and striking out six (but walking five). Dan Johnson did not homer this time.

Meanwhile, Javier Vazquez is pitching for a spot on the postseason roster, and last night did so with mixed results: He allowed a runner inherited from Hughes to score on Carl Crawford's single, but got Evan Longoria to ground into a fielder's choice to end the seventh. Then in the eighth, after Robinson Cano's double rolled past Carl Crawford to give the Yankees a 7-3 cushion, he allowed the first two runners to reach before Joba Chamberlain bailed him out. Hughes's stock rose last night; we're not so sure about Vazquez.

The win extended the Yankees' lead to two and a half games — matching the largest lead since July 27 — but more importantly, their rotation is coming together just as Tampa's is falling apart. The Rays' starters are 8-10 with a 5.32 ERA in September. Last night's starter, James Shields, hasn't won a game this month.

The Yankees' magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to three, though a playoff berth hasn't really been in doubt for some time. Something to keep in mind tonight and tomorrow, however: The Yankees evened the season series with Tampa last night, and should the teams be tied at the end of the season but guaranteed playoff berths, head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker.

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Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images