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Teixeira's tater carries Yanks over Tigers

Teixeira's tater carries Yanks over Tigers

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NEW YORK -- A.J. Burnett watched Phil Hughes' outing on Friday night from the Yankees' clubhouse, glued to the overhead TV and filled with an emotion somewhere between awe and relief. What Burnett saw from the comfortable confines of his locker was a pitcher who has found the proverbial zone, where every ball grazes the black of the plate.

Indeed, that's where Hughes is living these days, and it appears that the All-Star break has only rejuvenated his powerful right arm. Hughes worked the seventh and eighth innings in relief of Burnett, tallying six strikeouts and hitting 97 mph on the radar gun.

Hughes' impressive performance not only baffled his opponents and dazzled his teammates, it kept the Yankees in the game long enough to score three runs in the seventh and come away with a 5-3 victory over the Tigers in front of 46,197 at Yankee Stadium.

Mark Teixeira's three-run homer off Joel Zumaya in a driving rainstorm was the deciding blow before the game was delayed for 57 minutes in the middle of the eighth.

With each dominant showing by Hughes, the debate regarding his future will continue to rage. He's being groomed to be a starter, but he has been nearly untouchable out of the bullpen. But to Burnett, there is no contest.

"He's in the spot where he needs to be right now. He's locked in," Burnett said. "Give him the ball right now, man. I watched him from in here, and it was a joke. He threw everything where he wanted to."

Not quite. After the game, Hughes lamented that he allowed three hits off his curveball and acknowledged he should have scrapped it temporarily from his arsenal. But those were just minor blips on an otherwise smooth radar.

Hughes entered the game with the Yankees trailing by a run and struck out Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco and Clete Thomas, scattering two singles. It was the type of stalwart relief pitching the Yankees needed.

In the bottom half of the frame, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon led off with consecutive hits, setting the stage for Teixeira.

The first baseman worked into a 3-1 count and sat on an inside fastball from Zumaya, who is considered one of the hardest throwers in the league. That's exactly what Teixeira got, and he launched it into the second deck in right for his 22nd homer of the year. It was his first blast at home since June 12, and it could not have come at a better time.

"A big home run like that to put us ahead -- a good win to start the second half," Teixeira said. "[Zumaya's] throwing so hard. He's such a good pitcher -- a strikeout pitcher. That's what they want, a strikeout. I just put a good swing on the pitch."

Hughes made sure that Teixeira's clutch hit stood up when he returned to the mound for the eighth. He again struck out the side, capping the performance by catching Ramon Santiago looking after an eight-pitch at-bat. He left the mound to a loud ovation from the crowd and turned the ball over to Mariano Rivera, who converted his 24th save.

The late-inning heroics by Hughes and Teixeira bailed out Burnett, who struggled throughout the night. He said that he could not command his curveball and felt rusty coming out of the All-Star break.

Nevertheless, Burnett kept the Yankees in the game despite having relatively mediocre stuff. He left after six innings, having surrendered three runs, exiting with his team down by one run.

"[It felt] like I threw 200 pitches instead of 100," Burnett said. "It was a grind, it was a battle. I didn't pitch ahead, and when I did, I couldn't finish. I was just trying to tell myself to keep myself in as long as I could, as long as [manager] Joe [Girardi] kept me out there, because I knew it was going to be a grind."

With Hughes waiting in the bullpen, Burnett's start was just enough to snap the Yankees' three-game losing streak.

It seems that Hughes has found a home in the bullpen for the rest of the season. He has not allowed a run in his past 12 outings, tossing 15 2/3 shutout innings during that span. He has surrendered just two runs in 20 1/3 frames as a reliever this year, for an ERA of 0.89.

Girardi has maintained that the long-term plan for Hughes is to re-insert him into the rotation, but at this point that will likely have to wait until next spring. Hughes has quickly become one of the Yankees' most important components, and Friday may have been the greatest proof yet.

"He's really comfortable," catcher Jorge Posada said. "He's coming into being a setup man, and he's doing a [great] job."

Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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