Backache forces Hughes to make early exit

The Yankees’ string of quality starts in postseason play came to an abrupt and painful end in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series when Phil Hughes was forced to come out of the game while pitching to his third batter in the fourth inning. It marked the first time in this postseason that a Yankees starter did not pitch into the seventh inning.

Hughes allowed only one run – on a home run by Tigers designated hitter Delmon Young – in three-plus innings, so the ERA of the Yankees’ rotation did not grow much, from 2.33 to 2.68. But the early exit pushed manager Joe Girardi into his bullpen far sooner than he anticipated. The Yankees used four pitches before the fifth inning was completed.

Yankees starters had averaged 7 2/3 innings pitched in the first seven postseason games. Except for the home run, Hughes had pitched fairly well. He walked Andy Dirks, the batter after Young homered, but got ahead 0-2 in the count on Jhonny Peralta before his back acted up. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild made a visit to the mound and decided they could not entrust so crucial a game to a hurt pitcher.

Eric Chavez, who started at third base over Alex Rodriguez, committed an error in the fifth that proved costly. Chavez, a six-time Gold Glove winner, could not handle a spinning grounder by fleet Quintin Berry on the short hop. Miguel Cabrera made the Yankees pay for the miscue with a double to right-center off David Phelps that made the score 2-0.

Chavez atoned for his boot the next inning with a splendid, back-handed stop of a hot shot by Cabrera with the bases loaded to start an around-the-horn double play that ended the threat. The twin killing illuminated third base coach Gene Lamont’s conservative call to stop Omar Infante at third base on a single by pinch hitter Avisail Garcia preceding the Cabrera at-bat.

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