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Youth is served

Yankees get lift from youngsters with season on line

Posted: Monday October 8, 2007 12:19AM; Updated: Monday October 8, 2007 1:44PM
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NEW YORK -- Roger Clemens dialed up a 92-mph fastball and threw it past Victor Martinez for strike three. It was the 59th pitch of the game for Clemens, and likely the final pitch of his storied career. His shoulders slumped and then Clemens limped off the field to a mixture of cheers and boos from a crowd of more than 56,000 at Yankee Stadium.

With Joe Torre's job, and the immediate future of the Yankees hanging in the balance, the Rocket was not able to give his team much -- three runs on four hits and two walks in 2.1 innings. It was his first start in three weeks, and Clemens could not deliver. He felt his left hamstring tweak in the first inning and could not push it past the third. In the end, no matter how carefully he dictated his playing terms, Clemens' body finally betrayed him, rendering him the most expensive four-month, .500 pitcher in history.

"I wouldn't want to say it was heartbreaking," Torre said of Clemens after the game, "because he wouldn't want me to say that." Torre admitted that Clemens "was very unhappy when we took him out. Not that he felt he could pitch more, it was just the fact that he was there to do a job, and he was really upset that he had to leave at that point in time." With all hands on deck, Torre bypassed Mike Mussina, who pitched brilliantly in relief of Clemens in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, and summoned Phil Hughes, a celebrated part of the organization's young pitching corps, instead. The Yankees' collection of expensive veterans has been served by the young, power arms of the Tigers and Angels in recent Octobers. Now, with Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, New York has some young guns of their own.

Hughes was the organization's prize prospect coming into the season, and came with the hype to prove it -- he was dubbed Phil Franchise by Yankee fans before the end of spring training. Initially, he was not even scheduled to pitch in the big leagues this season, yet when the Yankees pitching staff was in tatters early in the season, Hughes was promoted to the big club. But he pulled his left hamstring throwing a curve ball to Mark Texiera in just his second start of the year (he had a no-hitter through 6.1 innings against the Texas Rangers at the time).

Hughes' stint on the DL was prolonged when he hurt his left ankle during rehab, and when he did return, Hughes was just average, posting a 4-2 record over 11 starts with a 4.65 ERA. Hughes is essentially a two-pitch pitcher (fastball, curve), but was not able to locate the curve effectively. In September, however, Hughes had his best month of the year, going 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA over 29.2 innings.

Hughes pitched well in a Game 1 relief appearance, working quickly and throwing strikes (even though he gave up a solo home run). He was rested and ready to go tonight.

"This kid showed us something the other day when he pitched in Game 1 and did a heck of a job," said Torre. "Then to come in the way he did [tonight] ... he looked like a seasoned pro out there. When we took him out, he looks you right in the eye and you know he was happy that he was able to give us those innings."

Hughes warmed up during the second inning and when Clemens faltered in the third, the rookie quickly found himself in the biggest spot of his professional career. "I had to finish my warm-ups out on the field," said Hughes. "But I was told beforehand just be ready for anything that may happen, and just try and stay focused out there and keep the damage to a minimum."

Hughes gave up a run-scoring double to Jhonny Peralta in the third. He would allow just one more hit and no runs over 3.2 innings.

"He was huge for them," said Indians' manager, Eric Wedge. "Roger's got a lot of guts. He was trying to tough it out, and I think he took it about as far as he could go. But that kid Hughes came in and he's got a live fastball, tough breaking ball, started mixing in a changeup a little bit. The kid showed a lot of poise."

"I think he introduced himself to the world tonight," said Johnny Damon.

In the meantime, the Yankees dormant offense finally awoke, scoring four runs in the fifth, and three in the seventh, highlighted by Damon's three-run home run. "There's a lot on the line," said Damon. "We're playing for our manager that we love."

When Torre arrived at the Stadium on Sunday, he was greeted with news of the comments George Steinbrenner made to Ian O'Connor of The Bergen Record on Saturday. "His job is on the line," Steinbrenner said in a rare phone interview. "I think we're paying him a lot of money. He's the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don't think we'd take him back if we don't win this series."

"You don't always get used to it," Torre said of Steinbrenner's public criticisms before the game, "but you understand that if you want to work here -- and there is certainly a great deal of upside to working here -- you understand there are certain things you have to deal with."

When the game was over, Torre said, "I understand the requirements here. You understand the pressure everybody's under to win all the time. The only thing I try to do is allow my players to roll the dice out there and play, because every time we go to the postseason there's nothing that's going to satisfy anybody unless you win the World Series. And that's very difficult. Those are difficult situations for the players to play under. Even though they get paid a lot of money, it's still blood that runs through their veins."

For once, a much-needed infusion of young blood helped the Yankees save Torre's job, at least one more game. Chamberlain pitched two innings, giving up a run. While he wasn't commanding, Chamberlain successfully served as the bridge to Mariano Rivera, who closed the game. Two other young Yankees, Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano, each had RBI hits.

"I just can't say enough about [Hughes]," said Torre, "and the rest of the youngsters."