Too many walks and not enough hits

The stage seemed perfectly set for Phil Hughes to have a big game Wednesday night. His parents made the trip to the Bay Area from their home in southern California to watch him start against the Athletics at O.co Coliseum, a pitchers’ park that favors those who give up a lot of fly balls. Yankees manager Joe Girardi filled his lineup with his best defensive outfielders to run down all those prospective flies, and Oakland’s lineup was without two of its best hitters, Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes, with nagging leg injuries.

It did not turn out to be Phil’s night, however. Coming off a superlative performance at Seattle at the start of the Yanks’ West Coast trip late last week, Hughes had a letdown in the Yankees’ 5-2 loss that guaranteed Oakland winning the series that ends Thursday afternoon with the Bombers’ hopes resting on Hiroki Kuroda.

Hughes struggled to find the plate in an outing that lasted only 4 1/3 innings as a mounting pitch count (95) that has plagued him often this year bit him again. Five walks played a major part of that, which has not been a characteristic of Yankees pitching this year. The staff entered play with the fewest amount of walks in the majors with 157, an average of 2.49 per nine innings.

By game’s end, the Yankees walked nine batters, a season high. It was so bad that even rookie Preston Claiborne finally walked someone for the first time in his career after 19 1/3 innings. Claiborne walked Seth Smith, who got four free passes plus a single for an odd perfect night.

A more usual nemesis for Hughes, the home run, was evident again. Brandon Moss hit the first of his two homers in the game off Hughes in the second inning, a two-run shot. Moss homered again in the eighth off Joba Chamberlain. In fact, that is just about Moss does these days. The five hits he has had over his past 40 at-bats have all been home runs.

The long ball may not have stung as much as how the A’s got their other two runs. Lackadaisical work at holding a runner on first base by both Hughes and Chamberlain helped Oakland build two runs that certainly were illuminated when the Yankees rallied in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate.

In each case, the pitcher paid no attention to A’s second baseman Eric Sogard, who took huge leads and stole second and ended up scoring on hits by John Jaso, a one-out double off Hughes in the fifth and a two-out single off Chamberlain in the eighth.

As timid as the Yankees’ offense has been the past two nights, there was never mind slim but no margin for error. The Yankees managed only four hits off three Oakland pitchers. Starter Dan Straily has been a hot pitcher of late (3-0 with a 2.20 ERA over his past five starts) and closer Grant Balfour made it 17-for-17 in saves albeit after putting the tying runs on base in the ninth.

The Yankees’ 3-4-5 hitters – Mark Teixeira, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells – were a combined 0-for-11. Teixeira did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly that gave him more RBI (5) than hits (4) on the trip. Jayson Nix got his third RBI of the trip with a two-out single in the seventh but could not duplicate the feat in the ninth in making the final out.

The victory, Oakland’s 10th straight at home, moved the A’s back into first place in the American League West while the Yankees fell three games behind the Red Sox in the AL East but stayed a half-game ahead of the third-place Orioles.

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