Phil Hughes was one out away from a terrific seven-inning, two-run outing, in which his only real mistake was a two-run home run by Dan Johnson. In that seventh inning, he’d already retired both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, and even as his pitch count rose, Joe Girardi figured he could squeeze one final full inning out of Hughes and didn’t have anyone warming up in the bullpen even with the tying runner on base. As it turned out, Hughes would settle for a mostly solid, but less satisfying six and two thirds innings, in which his only real mistakes were two two-run home runs by Dan Johnson. And in Tampa’s 4–3 win in the rubber game last night, that second mistake made all the difference.
Johnson’s second home run also meant we missed out on the full force of a rare phenomenon: a Derek Jeter controversy. Perhaps miffed that his homeless-guy scene was cut out of that Will Ferrell movie, Jeter showed off his acting chops last night, selling his seventh-inning “hit by pitch” and earning a spot on first base, even though he admitted after the game that the ball had hit the knob of the bat (as Joe Maddon and anyone watching at home already knew). That appeared at the time to be an important baserunner: Curtis Granderson’s subsequent two-run home run put the Yankees, temporarily, in the lead. Instead, it’s little more than a footnote.
Eight losses out of ten looks bad, and for the most part, it is. The last five of those have come against potential playoff opponents — though if the playoffs started today, with the Yankees a half-game out of first in the East, they’d open the postseason at Minnesota — and the losses have come in the type of tight game they’re likely to find themselves in come October. But this is still not a Yankees team playing with its full roster: Alex Rodriguez and Lance Berkman have returned and Andy Pettitte’s on his way back, but now Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner are battling injuries.
It showed last night: Their outfield replacements, Austin Kearns and Colin Curtis, combined to strand ten runners on base. This isn’t meant as an excuse — all were winnable games, and plenty of regulars had their chance to step up — but the difference in the Tampa Bay series was so slight that it might not have taken much to tip the scales in the Yankees favor.