DETROIT – Righthander Phil Hughes has just pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning. He had retired four in a row and seven of the past eight hitters. He had outlasted former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. The Twins were closing in on a victory.
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson then walked up to manager Ron Gardenhire and said, “Hughes is done.”
Hughes had thrown 86 pitches. A complete-game shutout was not out of the question.
Gardenhire walked to the other end of the dugout to make sure. Hughes had had his fill. Catcher Kurt Suzuzki backed him up.
So Gardenhire got the bullpen involved earlier than he expected. Casey Fien pitched the eighth and Glen Perkins gave up a run in the ninth, but the Twins held on for an impressive 2-1 victory over Verlander and the Tigers at Comerica Park. With a little help at the end, Hughes won his fourth consecutive start, his longest streak since he won four in a row from May 22-June 16, 2012.
In these cases, a reporter heads down to the clubhouse after the game wondering, “What was Gardy thinking?” It soon became, “What was Hughes thinking?”
“In the seventh inning, I thought my stuff and location were deteriorating,” Hughes said. “In a situation like that, with the meat of the order coming up and guys having success off of me in the past, you don’t want to give the game away because you are being prideful.”
Gardenhire appreciated Hughes’ honesty.
“I had not thought of taking him out, a guy is going along like that.” Gardenhire said. “But when he said he’s starting to get the ball up and the catcher comes in and says yes, he is getting the ball up, he’s losing it, you are taking him out of the ballgame.”
Before that, Hughes was unflappable and fearless. He threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 25 batters he faced. He pitched hard inside at will — even to Miguel Cabrera, who entered the game batting .536 off him in his career. Hughes discovered early that his fastball had life and his cutter was moving well, too. He only threw two curveballs and no changeups all night. But he had to pitch with runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, which took its toll.
“The pitch count looked good,” he said, “but I pitched in a lot of high-stress innings.”
The Twins had their chances against Verlander, too. They stranded two runners on base in both the second and third innings. They cashed in during the seventh.
Chris Parmelee singled with one out. Then, with two out, Danny Santana singled and Brian Dozier walked. That brought Suzuki to the plate.
Before the game, Gardenhire said he batted Suzuki second because “he’s been swinging the bat pretty good.”
Suzuki entered the game batting .375 with two outs and runners in scoring position. And Kurt was clutch again, driving a single through the infield to score the first two runs of the game.
The bullpen took it from there. The stadium siren went off in the top of the ninth inning because a fire had broken out in a janitorial closet. It was contained, but the emergency system overrides the public address system and the music. The last inning was played to the sounds of baseball and fans’ reactions.
And that meant the game ended quietly, as Perkins gave up an RBI double but still earned his ninth save. Just like Hughes expected.
“The guys," Hughes said, “are down there for a reason."