KANSAS CITY, MO. – His date with the left-hand column seemed intact, but Phil Hughes could not swing into a celebratory mood in the seventh inning on Sunday.
Hughes had just given up a two-run home run estimated at 403 feet to the Royals’ Alcides Escobar — and had just handed the ball to manager Ron Gardenhire as Brian Duensing entered from the bullpen to replace him. Hughes moved toward a dugout where its inhabitants barely moved toward him.
“They knew I was mad,” Hughes said. “That had nothing to do with pranking me. I wanted to get through that seventh.”
Hughes got into character after the final out of the Twins’ 8-3 victory over the Royals on Sunday. The left-hand column is the win column, and Hughes had earned his first victory in four tries with his new team. It was right on time, too: The Twins needed a stopper after losing the first two games of the three-game series.
The Twins gave Hughes a game ball once they were back in the clubhouse, and it was then that he could savor the moment after beginning the season 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in three starts since signing a three-year, $24 million contract with the Twins during the offseason under the expectations that he would help stabilize the rotation.
“This being my first time with a new team, it’s special,” Hughes said. “I’ll have to remember this one.”
Hughes had to get used to the winner’s circle for another reason: It had been more than eight months since his last victory of any kind. Hughes last won on July 2 of last season against the Twins at Target Field, holding them to one run over seven innings. Since then he had gone 0-8 with a 6.46 ERA in 17 games (16 starts). That run cemented his breakup with the Yankees, the team that drafted him one spot after the Twins selected Glen Perkins in 2004. And it set up his redemption tour with the Twins.
But the tour began with a few reruns. Three consecutive five-inning outings, and Hughes was not in the win column. Sunday, he was matched against Royals righthander Yordano “Future Ace” Ventura. The Twins gave Hughes a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but Hughes had to work out of bases-loaded jam in the second, getting Nori Aoki to fly out to end the inning. There were runners on first and third with one out in the fifth when Salvador Perez laced a grounder up the middle that looked headed for the outfield.
Second baseman Brian Dozier, however, dived to his right to stop the ball and flipped the ball out of his glove to shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who completed an inning-ending double play. A play as fine as you will see.
“The guy hit the living fire out of it,” Gardenhire said, “and Dozier makes a backhand play and flips it with the glove. It’s a beautiful thing. Very athletic, and he is that. He can really do some things with that glove.”
Plays like that, in addition to a 13-hit attack Sunday that included three extra-base hits from Trevor Plouffe and a solo homer from Josmil Pinto (the rookie continues to take good at-bats), and Hughes was able to cruise. He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 27 batters he faced, getting ahead 0-2 nine times. He believes in attacking, and he did it well enough to win Sunday.
“I felt like for the most part I was able to pound the zone pretty good,” he said. “It led to a few uncomfortable swings. That’s what I try to do.”
His next mission is to not take so much time between wins.
“Someone brought that up, last July, since my last one,” Hughes said. “Definitely nice to get one and hopefully get on a little run and pick up a few more.”