Phil Hughes went from never giving up a run at Rangers Ballpark to hardly going an inning without doing so.
And this time, the New York Yankees couldn't bail out a struggling starter.
Hughes entered Saturday with 15 1-3 scoreless innings in Arlington. The streak came to a halt when leadoff man Elvis Andrus stole home in the first inning. Then the Rangers began taking their whacks against the big right-hander, scoring two runs apiece in the second, third and fifth innings on their way to a 7-2 victory Saturday that tied the AL championship series at one game apiece.
"I didn't give us a chance to win today," Hughes said. "That's what's most disappointing. You want to go out, minimize the damage and give us a chance. But getting down five, you can't do that every time."
Hughes' awful outing followed a similar flop by ace C.C. Sabathia. As worrisome as that is for the reigning World Series champs, the Yankees could soon be concerned about the innings being piled up by their bullpen — nine through two games. Every reliever has gotten in, with Joba Chamberlain appearing twice.
"Our starters pitched extremely well, and everyone was giddy about them the last series," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "I believe in our guys and I believe that they will pitch well as we continue forward here."
Hughes dismissed his success at this stadium because it included just one inning this season; the rest came from a start last year and another back in 2007. Still, he was coming off another impressive feat: seven shutout innings last Saturday in his first career playoff start, capping a first-round sweep of the Minnesota Twins.
So the Rangers came in wary of not getting much off Hughes.
Andrus opened the bottom of the first with a chopper off Hughes' glove that went for an infield single. He took second as soon as he saw a wild pitch hit the dirt, then stole third. Texas manager Ron Washington wanted to maximize the scoring chance, so with Josh Hamilton on first base, he tried a double steal. It worked, with Andrus sliding into home without even drawing a throw.
The Rangers didn't bother scratching out runs after that.
A solo homer by David Murphy in the second started a parade of extra-base hits, with Texas getting at least two in each of its rallies. He seemed to have settled down when he had a 1-2-3 fourth inning, then was pulled after giving up a double and triple opening the fifth.
"I thought my stuff was good in the first, but I was fighting out there in the middle innings," Hughes said. "They were jumping on every fastball that was up and over the plate. It was a struggle to get the ball on the corners and down. It just wasn't my day."
The runner Hughes left behind at third ended up scoring, so he was charged with all seven runs and 10 hits in four-plus innings. He walked three (one intentionally) and struck out three, all in the first inning. He also left the bases loaded in the third.
"I expect him to better next time," Girardi said.
This was the second-shortest of Hughes' 31 starts in 2010. The day before, Sabathia logged his shortest of the year. A benefit of them being KO'd early is that they could come back sooner.
The Yankees could start Sabathia on short rest in Game 4 and bring back Hughes for Game 5. That would allow them to skip A.J. Burnett, just 1-7 from Aug. 1 on.
"I haven't discussed that with anyone," Girardi said. "If we worry about Game 4 before Game 3, we are going to be in trouble."
At least his bullpen has been as good as his starters have been bad.
Four relievers combined for five scoreless innings in the opener, then four guys put together four more scoreless frames Saturday. If you're scoring at home, that's a 13.50 ERA for the starters (12 runs, eight innings) and 0.00 ERA for the relievers (nine innings).
Girardi has been careful with how he's used his bullpen. David Robertson had the longest stint in Game 2, going 1 1-3 innings. The longest by any reliever was Dustin Moseley going two innings in the opener.
"We've got a day off tomorrow, so we'll be ready for Monday," said Chamberlain, who followed an 18-pitch outing with a 19-pitch effort.