Making his second start back at the Major League level after losing much of the year to a mysteriously fractured rib, Hughes offered what manager Joe Girardi called "the best start he had all year."
"Pretty much, he did everything right tonight," Girardi said.
After allowing a first-inning run, Hughes settled in, commanding his fastball low in the zone and using his curveball to reliably record six strikeouts. But it was a curveball that also bit Hughes, as he hung one to Scott Rolen in the seventh inning and knew immediately that he'd lost a 2-1 lead.
Rolen's swing deposited the ball over the left-field wall for a solo home run, but with the Yankees no longer in postseason contention and the right-hander heading to the Arizona Fall League for more innings, Girardi had the freedom to let Hughes' leash run a little bit longer.
"I wanted to see him go back out because he was throwing so well," Girardi said. "That's a great sign. You want to see how guys throw the ball when they start getting around 100 pitches. You want starters to go deep in the game."
The 22-year-old showed something, coming back after the home run to strike out Travis Snider, then retired the side in order in the eighth inning. It was the first time that Hughes had touched the eighth inning at the big league level, let alone complete it.
"A win would have been nice, but that one mistake, that's the way it goes sometimes," Hughes said. "It's definitely a good feeling to pitch well and something I can carry over into Arizona and into Spring Training.
"One good outing isn't going to erase a whole season of injuries. But it's good to end on a positive note and carry it over into next year."
Hughes has said that he would be surprised if a roster spot was guaranteed to him in 2009, one year after the Yankees refused to part with him in a potential deal for Johan Santana. Girardi has said that he expects Hughes to be in contention for the starting rotation and clearly sees the potential.
"I really believe that if he hadn't had the injury," Girardi said, "he would have won games for us."
After managing two runs through eight innings in what may have been A.J. Burnett's final start as a Blue Jay, coming on Xavier Nady's two-run single in the third, the Yankees loaded the bases in the 10th inning against left-hander Jesse Carlson to set up Abreu's go-ahead grand slam.
Juan Miranda opened with a double -- his second Major League hit, both of which were collected Wednesday -- and Chad Moeller walked before Brett Gardner sacrificed the runners up.
Robinson Cano was hit by a pitch and Abreu followed with a high arcing drive over the wall in right field, his 20th homer of the year. A free agent after the season, Abreu has now recorded eight straight seasons with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
"I don't really look for a home run in that time," Abreu said. "I'm just trying to put the ball in play there and it happened. I hit it good and as soon as I hit it, I knew it had a chance."
The Yankees may have seen a preview from another starting pitcher not named Hughes. As Burnett departed, he was called for a curtain call by the Rogers Centre crowd and waved his cap. Under contract for two years and $24 million, Burnett may opt out following the season and is expected to do so.
Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner already mentioned Burnett as a potential target, and the right-hander did nothing to dissuade talk, striking out 11 over eight innings of two-run ball.
"We have not scored a lot of runs off of Burnett," Girardi said. "The thing about A.J., he always has the ability to strike someone out. That's what makes him such an effective pitcher. He can strike someone out, and not all pitchers can do that."