The Yankees are already down, 0-2, to the Tigers.
Not just that, but they are without Derek Jeter, who is out for the remainder of the postseason with a fractured left ankle.
Oh, and this: New York's offense has been nearly nonexistent through the first two games of this series, meaning Hughes has even less margin for error.
No pressure, right?
Tale of the Tape: Game 3
|2012 regular season|
|Overall: 33 GS, 17-8, 2.64 ERA, 60 BB, 239 K||Overall: 32 GS, 16-13, 4.23 ERA, 46 BB, 165 K|
|Key stat: Two postseason starts, 16 innings, one earned run, 22 K and two wins||Key stat: Struck out a postseason career-high eight batters, allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALDS|
|At Comerica Park|
|2012: 15 GS, 9-2, 1.65 ERA
Career: 113 GS, 66-25, 3.00 ERA
| 2012: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.38 ERA
Career: 5 GS, 3-2, 2.78 ERA
|Against this opponent|
|2012: 3 GS, 1-1, 3.10 ERA
Career: 13 GS, 5-4, 3.74 ERA
|2012: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.38 ERA
Career: 10 G, 8 GS, 5-4, 4.22 ERA
|Loves to face: Mark Teixeira: 3-for-31, 10 K
Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez: 8-for-24, 3 HR, 7 RBI
|Loves to face: Austin Jackson: 1-for-11, 4 K
Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera: 9-for-20, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1.650 OPS
|Why he'll win: 7-1 with a 1.55 ERA in his last eight starts and has allowed one run or fewer in six of them.||Why he'll win: His 16 wins tied for the team lead, and he's coming off one of the best starts of his postseason career.|
|Pitcher beware: Gave up five runs in nine total innings vs. New York in 2011 playoffs.||Pitcher beware: Detroit hit righties as well as any team -- led MLB with .275 average, third with .771 OPS. Hughes' 35 HR allowed were tied for second most in MLB.|
|Bottom line: Win your home games, especially with your ace on the mound.||Bottom line: Need Hughes to pitch the way he did in the ALDS.|
"Well, I mean, there's always questions that come with every start, and I don't really feel like I can feel any added pressure just because of the circumstances," said Hughes. "I just have to go out there and pitch, that's all it boils down to, not really worry about being down 0-2 or that Verlander is on the mound or that we don't have our captain.
"Those sorts of things are going to be wasted energy, and all I really want to focus on is the Detroit Tigers' lineup and doing the absolute best job I can do."
In truth, sometimes being the decided underdog -- as Hughes certainly is in this matchup -- can be liberating.
"This is what it's all about," said Hughes. "You don't want to lose both games at home, but we still have a chance. We still have a chance to do this. We just have to take one game at a time."
The mission for Hughes will be silencing not only Detroit's offense but a revved-up crowd at Comerica Park.
"You're going to get a little more adrenaline from that," said Hughes. "Obviously, we don't want to go into the series over there down 0-2, but there's nothing we can do about that now. I just have to, like I said, go into Detroit, put together a good start and trust our guys are going to score some runs. But yeah, to answer your question, I do enjoy that. I do enjoy that pressure and the opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it."
There was a time when Hughes was viewed as a phenom. For a while, everyone waited for him to live up to the hype. Maybe the 26-year-old hasn't turned into the star some might have projected, but the Yankees are depending on him in this spot. And if he comes through, perhaps he can earn a special place in the team's illustrious postseason history.
"You can't put too much pressure on yourself," said Hughes. "We have to go out and pitch well -- that's it. Whatever the circumstances are, whether it's Jeet being down or us not scoring the runs we're used to scoring, you can't think about those things. You just have to go out and pitch."
That's the one thing the Yankees have done in this series, particularly the starters. Andy Pettitte was strong in Game 1. Hiroki Kuroda dazzled on three days' rest in Game 2.
"You kind of feed off that, and our starters are doing a good job," said Hughes. "You want to be the next guy to come up big for us. Obviously, it's a big game and we need it, and we'll go out and do the best job we can."
And perhaps the Yankees will be able to make Verlander sweat -- at least a little. The Athletics couldn't muster anything, and that's why they are now home for the winter. In the AL Division Series, Verlander went 2-0 with an 0.56 ERA.
"I'll just throw the best game I can and trust that our guys are going to score some runs," Hughes said. "And obviously, Verlander is a great pitcher, but he is human, and we know we can score off him. I just have to do a better job than he does. It's going to be a challenge, but like I said, I'm looking forward to it."
Hughes does have some recent momentum on his side. He pitched well in Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Baltimore, giving up four hits and a run while striking out eight over 6 2/3 innings.
"We always have faith in Phil," said right fielder Nick Swisher. "He did a great job for us down the stretch, and we have the utmost confidence in him."
By faring well against the Tigers, Hughes can help erase the bitter memories he has from the last time he pitched in the ALCS. In 2010, Hughes went 0-2 with an 11.42 ERA against the Rangers, taking the loss on the night the Yankees were eliminated.
To be at his best, Hughes will have to keep the Tigers in the ballpark. The righty gave up 35 homers this season, second in the AL.
If Hughes can pitch his team to victory, the Yankees will then have to win just one of the next two to get the series back to the Bronx for Game 6. A loss would pin his team in a 3-0 hole, something only the 2004 Red Sox have lived to tell about.
"I'll just do what I can," Hughes said. "One pitch at a time, and not worry about Games 4 or 5. Just focus on what I can do, and that's pretty much it. We're not in the position we want to be, but we'll have to go there and try to give ourselves a chance."
Hughes pitched twice against the Tigers this season, two starts at Comerica Park.
In the June 3 outing, Hughes reeled off one of the best starts of his career, firing a complete game while striking out eight.
But he didn't do nearly as well on Aug. 7, giving up eight hits and four runs over 4 1/3 innings in a loss.
"You can't really look at those two starts and take a whole lot away from them coming into this start," Hughes said. "I just have to hope that I have good stuff and good command and attack the strike zone like I normally do, and I think we'll have some good success."
And if the Yankees are going to have any success in coming back in this series, it will probably have to start with a stellar performance from Hughes.