"It's just huge for our team," said Mark Teixeira, who homered from both sides of the plate in the win. "When a fifth starter, a guy that had to win the job out of Spring Training, becomes one of your aces -- it makes such a huge difference in our team. We may not be in first place without Phil Hughes."
With him, they are baseball's best team. Hughes improved to 11-2 with seven innings of one-run ball against Seattle, bouncing back from a couple of bumpy starts as he looks forward to a trip to Angel Stadium, just a few miles from the house where he grew up in Santa Ana, Calif.
Joining CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte for the team lead in the 11-win club, the Yankees became the first team since the 1999 Houston Astros (Mike Hampton, Jose Lima, Shane Reynolds) to have three starters with 11 or more victories at the All-Star break.
"I don't think many people expected a ton out of me, being that I was the fifth starter, and basically all we needed were four solid guys," Hughes said. "I really felt a lot of pressure from myself to have a good year, and so far, so good. I took pride in that. The front office puts belief in you, and it's up to you to deliver."
Hughes scattered six hits and was only touched for a run in the sixth inning, when Chone Figgins led off with a fan-interference ground-rule double and scored on Jose Lopez's one-out RBI double. Otherwise, he was in control, walking none and striking out five.
"We've got to keep him going," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the big thing. You don't stop here. He's been very solid for us, our starting rotation has been very solid, and we've got to keep that going."
It was a bounce-back outing for Hughes, who had allowed nine earned runs in his previous 11 2/3 innings, encompassing starts against the Mariners and Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. He worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland to eliminate a flaw with his arm angle, which was flattening his pitches and making them spin, and was rewarded with what he thought was his best curveball of the year.
"I felt good," Hughes said. "It was nice to get a rebound start like this, coming off an outing where I faced them two starts ago and didn't pitch too well. To come back on the road and follow up Andy last night was good."
It all happened on an evening when the Yankees reported to Safeco Field wondering if they would be facing left-hander Cliff Lee, or perhaps calling him a teammate. That question was the talk of sports television and the Internet, and finally resolved when Lee's trade to the Rangers in a six-player deal became official.
"I woke up thinking I was going to face him, and I was pretty happy when I saw he got traded," Hughes said.
"So we finally beat Cliff Lee," Teixeira joked.
In a way, perhaps, but they also had no picnic facing fill-in right-hander David Pauley, who retired 13 straight Bombers through one stretch.
After New York got on the board in the first inning on Teixeira's solo home run, his 16th, the Yankees went four innings without a baserunner until Pauley walked Brett Gardner to open the sixth.
Pauley's final pitch was rocketed to third base by Derek Jeter for an error, and that opened the door for a four-run inning facing reliever Chad Cordero.
"You fall behind guys like these and you can't make mistakes," Pauley said. "It's known all across the league that this is a team that hits mistakes."
Robinson Cano's two-run triple to right-center was the big blow, while Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson also drove in runs. Teixeira added his 17th homer of the season in the ninth, another solo shot, this time from the right side, marking the 10th time in his career he's gone deep from each side of the plate in a game.
"It's one of those times where I'm seeing the ball well from both sides," said Teixeira, who has reached base in a team-leading 30 straight games. "I'm not having to fight one side or the other.
"That happens on and off all during the season. Sometimes you're fighting one, sometimes you're fighting the other. Right now, I feel pretty good from both sides."