During the first Yankee homestand in April (against the Indians and a hack named Carl Pavano) a childhood friend of mine and I met up in section 214 to discuss the outlook of the new season, and a new stadium over a refreshing beverage. Both he and I are life long Yankee fans and have been to countless games together.
During our mid-April chat, he was sporting a custom made Yankees home jersey. The pinstripe bespoke uni did not sport his name, but rather just a number. 65. Phil Hughes who at the time was in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, was waiting his turn to get another crack at being part of the starting rotation. With Sabathia, Burnett, Wang and Pettitte, as a strong starting 4 most figured Hughes would get his shot when Chamberlin was moved back to the pen.
I laughed at the ridiculousness of his 100 dollar (110 with shipping) purchase. Here he was, wearing a uniform he custom made of a player who wasn't even on the roster. In fact, he made it while Hughes was still only a prospect in the farm system. My friend, Robert Rosenzweig's response? "No, Phil Hughes is the Truth, he's better than Joba." His statement was blasphemous to my ears. I fought for Joba with Rob for a whole off season, I blamed the numbers on the "Joba Rules" (I still do). I thought Joba had better and stuff was better suited to be a starter this year. He insisted Hughes would take his place in a matter of weeks.
The season dictated another outcome. Hughes came up during Wang's injury for spot starts, then, moved into long relief. All the while the Joba critics anticipated his move back to the bullpen and Phil to step in upon Wang's return. However, what happened next would change the course of the season for good. Instead of sending Hughes back down, or switching him with Joba, Hughes took over the role of set-up man. Brian Bruney went down with an injury and the Yankees needed an answer to secure leads. The move ended up being Joe Girardi's best move of the season. Straight Truth.
The Yankees up until this season haven't had a reliable set up man since Joba broke onto the scene two years ago. Before that, one has to go back to the dynasty years with Mike Stanton, and Jeff Nelson bridging the gap to Rivera. But Hughes has outshined Joba's debut and is reminiscent of Mariano's lights out performance in '96 when he was shutting doors and bridging the gap to John Wetland.
We know Mariano is the best closer in baseball, but the question for the last seven years has been how do we get the ball to him? The Yankees brought in ex-closers, middle relievers, a sleuth of patch up inning eaters, and worst of all a guy named Kyle Farnsworth who was like Mush in "A Bronx Tale" -- anything he touched turned to mush. The only bright spot, until now, was Joba's first year where for half a season he dominated the eighth inning.
Phil Hughes, who will be known as "The Truth." Baseball fans, writers and announcers may the name reign from here on out. The Truth has been lights out all year. In 51 appearances this year (he started seven), The Truth has pitched 86.0 innings, allowing only 31 runs (29 earned) for a 3.03 ERA. The Truth struck out 96, while walking 28, giving up only eight home runs. The Truth has 18 holds on the season, and has effectively changed the psyche of a Yankee team. Instead of 9 innings the Yankees are under the assumption after 6 2/3 innings the game is essentially over for the other team.
To eliminate a third of the game changes the entire approach of the pitchers and hitters. Starting pitchers understand they only need go six strong innings before the bullpen comes in and closes a game out. They can be more aggressive and go after hitters with good stuff, and don't have to save anything in the tank for later innings. Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte and even Chamberlin began to roll this season with the addition of The Truth. The hitters understand they are in every game if down in the later innings because the bullpen will keep it close. The Yankees have 51 comeback wins this season 14 of which ended in walk-off dessert.
Since The Truth's move to the bullpen the Yankees have run off with the A.L. East, and the best record in baseball. Many point to the return of A-Rod and his anchoring the middle of the line up. It's true his presence changed the approach of opposing teams, and helped spur the bats heating up. But in the end baseball comes down to pitching. The Yankees were and still are fortunate enough to find themselves amidst the swells of a perfect pitching and hitting storm. As they progress into the playoffs look deep inside that storm and you will find the Truth.