The Yankees' Last Gasp

Regardless of what happens tonight, while watching the Yankees 2-1 loss to the Tigers last night in the third game of the ALCS, you had the feeling that it was the end of an era. They brought Nick Swisher to the on-deck circle last night but he didn't get to bat. If he had, it probably would have been his swan song in pinstripes.

I don't know whether Curtis Granderson will be back next year; based on what I saw of him in the second half of the season and in the postseason, I'd find a way to deal him. (I know he's a good centerfielder, but a guy who hits .220 most of the year and strikeouts out nearly 200 times, even if he does hit more than 40 home runs, reminds me too much of Dave Kingman.)

They will probably have to keep Mark Teixeira, though I would find a way to dump him, too, after a second straight season of declining performance and increasing time lost to injury. I don't know what they're going to do with A-Rod, and the Yankees probably don't know either, though not lifting Brett Gardner in the 9th inning last night to give the bat to A-Rod is the most blatant insult anyone from Brian Cashman's office to Girardi could have imagined.

No, make that the second worst insult; not batting Rodriguez against Justin Verlander, whom he has always hit quite well, is a bigger insult.

On third thought, the biggest insult was constantly sitting A-Rod down for Eric Chavez, who didn't get a hit throughout the entire playoff and looks as if he can no longer field at third base.

But the first one the Yankees should give up is last night's starting and losing pitcher Phil Hughes. I've been on and off Hughes for years now, though this season I've been referring to him derisively as "Four Inning Phil." This wasn't quite fair: this season Hughes was actually knocked out of the box more times in five innings than four. He was 16-13 in the regular season, which led a lot of commentators to call him a "reliable" starting pitcher. This is false. With the Yankees' power behind him, a reliable starter would have won more than 16 of 29 decisions.

It would be more correct to call Hughes an innings eater, though, he should have been able to eat more than just 191 innings in his 32 starts. He seemed to always be in trouble this year, and he was, giving up more hits (196) than innings pitched. Despite a few good starts coming down the stretch, he never did develop into the star the Yankees anticipated a few years ago when they were called him "The Pocket Rocket" (i.e., a young Roger Clemens). Part of this, I think, had to do with the fact that the Yankees misused him, as they misused Joba Chamberlain: for too long they couldn't decide whether they wanted to make him a starter or reliever, and he never developed the arm strength as a young pitcher - he's 26 now - that he

Anyway, in most of the starts I saw Hughes make this season he seemed to visibly tire in the fourth inning. And so it was last night. For 3 innings he matched Justin Verlander, then the real Phil Hughes showed up. He started off the fourth inning going 0-2 to Delmon Young; then after 6 pitches - 3 balls and 3 fouls - gave up a home run. The next batter was Andy Dirks, whom he walked. In other words, on the first two batters in the 4th, after going 0-2, Hughes couldn't punch out either hitter and ended up losing both. That is so Phil. If anyone has kept a stat on this season, I'll bet Hughes lost more batters after reaching 0-2 than any pitcher in the league.

It was so disheartening to watch him drain his gas tank with hitters that he couldn't put away after getting 2 strikes on them. Then, while pitching the biggest game of his career, he pulled or strained - or according to one report, reinjured - a back muscle and took himself out of the game. I guess you can't blame a guy for an injury, but it just seemed so much like the Hughes we've come to know that he lost it exactly when the Yankees needed him most.

Hughes will be 27 next year and no longer the Wunderkind that we thought he would be,, and in any event, he's now an inconsistent, often-injured pitcher who no rebuilding team needs. And though we don't know who will be staying or going, that's what they Yankees will be
next year: a rebuilding team.

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