ARLINGTON -- Look at the Yankees' teams that have marched through October and one of the fixtures has been dependability -- if not excellence -- from the starting rotation. In other words, if the Bombers wind up winning this American League Championship Series against the Rangers, they are going to need marked improvement in that area.
After CC Sabathia's shaky performance in Game 1, Phil Hughes struggled even more in Saturday's 7-2 loss in Game 2. And this time, there was no magical comeback to mask the problem.
So instead of riding a wave of momentum back to the Bronx, the Yankees instead go home deadlocked 1-1 in this best-of-seven series.
"Our starters have not pitched well so far," said manager Joe Girardi. "Our starters pitched extremely well and everyone was giddy about them the last series. I don't ever get too involved in snapshot pictures, because those can be dangerous. I believe in our guys and I believe that they will pitch well as we continue forward here."
Hughes gave up one run in the first, two in the second and two more in the third, and just like that, the Yankees had an early 5-0 deficit for the second day in a row. His only scoreless frame was in the fourth, but that was hardly a sign that Hughes was getting his groove back.
The Rangers finished him off with nobody out in the fifth. Nelson Cruz missed a home run by inches, settling for a double. Ian Kinsler sliced a triple out of the reach of the diving Nick Swisher and Girardi came out to get Hughes, his day finished after 88 pitches.
When Joba Chamberlain came on and allowed Kinsler to score on a single to left, the book was closed on Hughes. Over four-plus innings, the 24-year-old gave up 10 hits and seven runs (all earned), walking three and striking out three.
"Yeah, I'm definitely disappointed," Hughes said. "We fought back yesterday to get that first win. We would have loved to get this one as well. It just wasn't in the cards. Now we have to go back home, and we're happy to be back in New York where we play really well."
In truth, what is far more vital for the Yankees than the location of where the games are played is the quality of the starting pitching.
After CC Sabathia lasted just four innings during Game 1 of the ALCS, Phil Hughes exited after four-plus frames in Game 2.
The struggles of the Yankees' starters early in this series has been striking. Sabathia and Hughes combined to give up 16 hits and 12 runs over eight innings. Their collective ERA was 13.50 ERA. Andy Pettitte, a hero of numerous postseasons past, will try to get the rotation back on track in Game 3.
"I think it's a strength," Sabathia said of New York's rotation. "You look at the guys we have in here. We're not off to a great start pitching, but there's still a lot of baseball left to be played. We're going to have to pitch well to win this thing. I definitely think it's a strength."
The fact that the Yankees are facing Cliff Lee in Game 3 makes it even more vital for Pettitte to come through with a command performance.
"I've made so many postseason starts and they've all seemed so big," said Pettitte. "It's another game. I just hope I can go out and get in a good rhythm and get everything working like I want it to be working, and hopefully give us a chance to win the ballgame."
Unlike Sabathia's struggles in Game 1, which occurred largely because he couldn't find the strike zone, Hughes might have been too much on the plate at times. Seven of the hits against Hughes came with two strikes. All of the hits were to either center or right.
"You have to give them credit," Hughes said. "They were jumping on every fastball that was up and out over the plate. It was a struggle to get the ball on the corners and down. My balls were flattening out and over the plate and up high pretty most every time. They were definitely aggressive. They were jumping on first-pitch fastballs. I didn't have real good feel for my secondary pitches. That made it a little bit more difficult."
This was the last thing the Yankees expected from Hughes, considering his breakthrough regular season, which consisted of an 18-8 record, not to mention his electric performance that closed out the Twins in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
"Against Minnesota, it was majority of fastballs, but they were well located and I was ahead," Hughes said. "This time, if they didn't hit the first pitch, I was behind in the count. It's not easy to pitch that way."
The Rangers got their first run against Hughes in stunning fashion. With runners at the corners, the Rangers executed a perfect double steal. Elvis Andrus nabbed home when Jorge Posada threw to second.
In the second, Hughes was wounded by power instead of speed. David Murphy ripped a solo shot to right. With two outs, Michael Young smashed an RBI double down the line in right.
Murphy and Bengie Molina stroked back-to-back RBI doubles in the third on two more misfires by Hughes, sending the packed house at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington into a frenzy.
"He was up in the zone today," said Girardi. "[He] didn't have much of a curveball. And you leave the ball up in the zone, it's a dangerous club that we talked about -- and they hurt him."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.