Phil Hughes pitched eight poised innings in his return to the Bronx and wound up a winner when the Minnesota Twins rallied past the Yankees 7-2 Sunday behind big hits from Josh Willingham and Brian Dozier in a six-run ninth.
With the Yankees missing injured sluggers Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, their last 18 batters went down in order. New York managed only six runs while losing two of three in the series and has dropped nine of its last 13 home games.
“Can’t make excuses,” Girardi said. “We need to get some guys going.”
Willingham belted a tying homer on the first pitch from Robertson, denying rookie Chase Whitley his first major league victory. Robertson (0-2) then walked two batters and gave up Dozier’s two-out double, putting the Twins on top 3-2.
Eduardo Nunez, also let go by the Yankees, lined a two-run double on Matt Daley’s first pitch. Oswaldo Arcia added a two-run single off Matt Thornton to make it 7-2.
Hughes (6-1) held his former team to three hits - all in a row to begin the fourth - and retired his final 15 batters during his sixth straight win.
“It was a little bit strange,” said Hughes, who tipped his cap to Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild while walking onto the field.
“But once I got on the mound, it just kind of cleared away and I was just able to focus on how I was going to pitch. After the first inning, I was just hoping I wouldn’t start walking toward their dugout.”
Hughes never quite lived up to lofty expectations in New York, though he did make his mark during seven seasons in pinstripes. He was a key member of the bullpen in 2009, helping the Yankees to a World Series championship, and made the All-Star team while winning 18 games the following year.
But he faded to 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA last season, struggling with the homer-friendly dimensions at Yankee Stadium. With the second-highest flyball ratio among major league starters, he went 1-10 with a 6.32 ERA at home.
“He didn’t need too much real estate here today,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Minnesota, which plays at pitcher-friendly Target Field, signed Hughes to a $24 million, three-year contract in December, and he’s off to a terrific start with his new team. He acknowledged Friday there would be “some weird at-bats” when he faced his former teammates.
“We all know how big this is for him,” Gardenhire said before the game.