On a night when the Yankees lost both Robinson Cano and Nick Johnson to various injuries, Hughes powered through seven strong innings and watched from the fun side of a six-run sixth inning on Friday as New York put a 10-3 trouncing on Boston.
The Yankees might have concerns for their immediate schedule, having already played on without several key veterans, but Hughes continues to offer something to count on. The right-hander scattered seven hits and struck out seven, improving to 4-0 in five starts this year.
"I haven't pitched particularly well here in the past," Hughes said. "It's been a small sample size of what I've been able to do, but it's nice to pitch well here. Obviously these are big games and we need to come in here and win. It's a nice way to start the series off."
Now winners of five consecutive games, the Yankees might have been planning on another one of their methodical, hard-fought battles against their fiercest foes, but the evening took a strange twist when Josh Beckett seemed to lose all command in the sixth inning.
The sixth-inning implosion would force a yellow "6" to be slotted onto the big wall in left, as Beckett dusted Francisco Cervelli for a run-scoring walk, Randy Winn logged an RBI single and Derek Jeter was drilled in the No. 2 on his back to force in another run.
Beckett allowed run-scoring hits to Marcus Thames and Mark Teixeira before Red Sox manager Terry Francona finally brought out the hook. Alex Rodriguez logged a sacrifice fly before the carnage was complete against Beckett, who allowed nine runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings.
"It was weird, but sometimes all it takes is one inning," Jeter said. "When we face him, it's always tough. We always battle, and when he gets hit a little bit, he seems to bear down. It's one of those weird things you probably won't see again."
There was some question in the stands and in the media if Beckett had been throwing at Yankees players, frustrated with how his start was literally coming apart. But while some Bombers like Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera watched Beckett's wildness with crossed arms and concern, manager Joe Girardi rejected the idea that any of it had been intentional.
"Obviously when the game is still tight, you're not going to hit people with the bases loaded on purpose," Girardi said. "He lost his command, and that's not something you see very often. I don't ever remember seeing it. Sometimes things go a little haywire."
Earlier, Nick Swisher had swatted a hanging fourth-inning breaking ball into the center-field camera stand for his sixth homer of the year, giving the Yankees a 3-0 jump at the time.
"Just a reaction, man," Swisher said. "When somebody's throwing 96 mph, you're really trying to catch it. I just happened to be out front a little bit and just happened to recognize it."
The hearty cushion provided plenty of breathing room for Hughes, who remained undefeated in his last nine starts dating back to last season, faring 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA in that span.
Hughes limited the Red Sox to a pair of David Ortiz RBIs -- a fourth-inning sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single in the sixth -- before relievers Dave Robertson and Boone Logan finished up in practice innings that were witnessed by 37,898.
When asked about Beckett's wild streak, Hughes said that it wasn't anything that warranted a few well-placed fastballs inside to the Boston hitters -- the sort of theatrics that have marked so many Fenway encounters in years past.
"It's a little frustrating, but I don't think [Beckett] was throwing at anyone," Hughes said. "The purpose was going inside, I assume -- nothing that called for retaliation."
It was a mature answer from a maturing pitcher. While it may have been a spring matter of debate if Hughes or Joba Chamberlain should win the fifth-starter's job, no one now seems to be questioning the direction the Yankees took.
"I think what helped Phil out was the success he had last year," Jeter said. "You could tell he had a lot of confidence going into the end of the year, and he carried it over to the starting role. He's been outstanding the entire year."
"He's good," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Hughes. "He's got velocity, he's got location, he's got that cutter. He's a good pitcher."
It could have been a rollicking evening for the Yankees had they not watched Cano and Johnson hobble off -- Cano to the clubhouse for treatment after taking a 92-mph fastball off the left knee, and Johnson heading to New York for an MRI on his right wrist and a likely stint on the DL.
"We're thin right now, to say the least," Hughes said. "We really had nobody on our bench from the fifth or sixth inning on. You don't want guys to go down, but when they do, you've got to try to find a way to win. Hopefully we can get these guys back soon, because a lot of the guys we lean on have some bumps and bruises right now."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less