Phillips' affable, spiritual blue-collar demeanor has made him a popular figure in the Yankees' clubhouse and among the fan base. His teammates are not shy about admitting that they pull for the infielder as a fine human interest story, though Phillips said that he struggled to keep his personal life separate from his professional life last season, often trying to put on a happy face around the clubhouse when events outside the stadium gave him little to smile about.
"My focus last year was more on what was going on at home than what was going on in my baseball career," he admits.
Last year, Phillips' wife, Bethany, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer related to a lost pregnancy, and few within the Yankees' family were even aware of the situation.
Phillips told manager Joe Torre when explaining why he wanted to fly home to Alabama at every possible juncture, and a select few friends were confided in as well, but for the most part, Phillips' personal struggles were kept to a secret while the infielder batted .240 in 110 games.
"He never really shared it with anybody," Torre said. "His closest friends knew about it, but he never really looked to get sympathy from anybody."
Recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before a June 19 game at Colorado, Phillips couldn't even be assured of being a part of the Yankees organization as recently as March.
Entering Spring Training in a battle with Rule 5 Draft selection Josh Phelps to serve as the right-handed batting complement to lefty-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz, Phillips lost crucial Grapefruit League at-bats when his mother, Linda, suffered severe injuries in an automobile accident involving a tractor-trailer truck.
Phillips left camp to be by his mother's bedside in Birmingham, Ala., and though he kept in touch with some teammates -- most notably Andy Pettitte -- Phelps' power hitting left the Yankees few choices but to expose Phillips to waivers, which he cleared before being outrighted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
His mother has recovered and even rejoined the work force recently, which has only helped Phillips enjoy his recent success. Before Tuesday's game, Phillips again reiterated that Bethany has made a full recovery from her illness and actually traveled overseas to Belize recently on a religious mission.
A few hours later, Phillips laced up his game spikes and continued to fulfill his own aspirations, his name scribbled into the Yankees' starting lineup.
"You've got to give him credit -- he's helping us offensively and helping us defensively," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "He's worked his tail off, and it's a nice story. It's certainly a contributing factor to our recent success. I'm happy for him and, therefore, happy for us."
Starting on Saturday: The Yankees plan to recall right-hander Matt DeSalvo, who made six starts in the Major Leagues earlier this season, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start one of the games in Saturday's doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
DeSalvo, 26, was 1-3 with a 5.87 ERA for the Yankees in May and June this season, and was optioned to the Minors after a June 4 start at U.S. Cellular Field in which he could not make it out of the second inning.
Since being sent down, DeSalvo may have found more of his rhythm -- he has fared 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA after rejoining Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, making a stronger case than other candidates for the Saturday start like right-hander Tyler Clippard, who was also up with the Yankees this season.
"You've got to earn it, and [DeSalvo] pitched the best," Cashman said. "He's outpitched everybody else."
Jersey boys: Cashman said he plans to attend Philip Hughes' rehabilitation start Wednesday for Double-A Trenton, in which the right-hander is scheduled to throw approximately 60 pitches.
In his previous outing, also for the Thunder, Hughes threw three shutout innings, allowing three hits and walking none while striking out six in a 43-pitch performance. The Yankees still plan on offering Hughes at least one more rehab start, for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, before re-evaluating the situation and considering a callup.
Yankees ink Durazo: The Yankees signed veteran Erubiel Durazo to a Minor League contract on Tuesday, assigning the former Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics first baseman to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Durazo, 32, last played in the Major Leagues in 2005 for the A's, performing for three different Triple-A teams in three different organizations last season, including the Yankees. He was playing for the Monterrey Sultans of the Mexican League this year, where he was batting .354.
While Cashman said that Durazo was signed more to fill a need for a Minor League bat following the loss of Phelps and the promotion of Phillips, Cashman would not rule out Durazo possibly helping the Yankees later this year.
"Anybody who goes in our system -- [reliever] Edwar Ramirez is an example of that," Cashman said, "if they perform and put themselves in the mix, hallelujah."
On the topic of first basemen, Cashman also said that Jason Giambi (torn left plantar fascia) could be looking at an early August return as he continues to work out at the Yankees' Legends Field training facility in Tampa, Fla.
Giambi is actually ahead of Doug Mientkiewicz (broken right wrist), who believed he might return in early August but is considered more likely to have a mid-August target date.
Bomber bits: Torre said he believes Johnny Damon "is getting his body out in front of his hands" as he swings, which may account for his recent struggles. A day off could be in Damon's future, but Torre has hedged his bets on that since Damon seems to rise up unpredictably and jump-start the lineup. ... The Yankees have won three of their last four games decided by one run after losing eight of their previous 10.
Coming up: The Yankees play the third game of their four-game set with the Blue Jays on Wednesday, sending right-hander Roger Clemens (2-4, 4.20 ERA) to the mound in search of his first victory in the second half. Toronto counters with right-hander Shaun Marcum (5-3, 3.68 ERA), with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. ET.