An 18-game winner and an All-Star in 2010, Phil Hughes had to wait until July for his first victory of 2011.
Hughes pitched six effective innings and the New York Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 7-2 on Sunday.
"It's not 18 but it's a start," Hughes said. "It's a good feeling."
Brett Gardner had three hits and Curtis Granderson finished with three RBIs as the Yankees salvaged a split in the four-game series after being outscored 23-8 over the first two games.
"It's really important, especially in our race and with what we're trying to do, to be able to come back and tie this series," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Four-game series are tough and the way we got started off, it wasn't pretty."
Making just his fifth start of the season and his second since missing 84 games with a sore right shoulder, Hughes (1-2) gave up two runs and four hits to win for the first time since Oct. 2, 2010, at Boston.
"I thought he took a big step today and that's what we wanted to see from him," Girardi said.
Armed with a new-look curveball, slightly faster than his old one, Hughes struck out five and walked two. He threw 80 pitches, 51 for strikes, and lowered his ERA to 8.44.
Hughes learned quickly how well his retooled curve was working when he used it to catch Eric Thames looking for the second out of the game.
"I knew right out of the chute it was going to be a good pitch for me," Hughes said. "I struggled a little bit locating it, got a little lazy with it in the middle innings but overall I felt like there was some improvement there."
Most important, though, were the strikeouts and swings and misses at his fastball.
"It was jumping out of his hand today," catcher Russell Martin said. "From what I've seen in the past, that's what he's usually doing. Just knowing that he can throw it by guys has to feel good for him."
Before the game, Girardi said having a healthy Hughes on his staff was akin to a midseason acquisition.
"You're adding a quality starter to your rotation if you can get him back," Girardi said. "It's almost like making a trade."
Hughes, however, saw things a little differently.
"I was here April 1 so if anything I look at it as trying to make up for some lost time," he said. "I should have been here and winning games for us and I wasn't."
Gardner posted his second straight three-hit game, going 3 for 4 with a walk, two stolen bases and three runs scored. The speedy outfielder now has stolen 12 straight bases without being caught, and is hitting .625 (10 for 16) since the All-Star break.
Cory Wade pitched the seventh, David Robertson worked the eighth and Boone Logan finished for the Yankees.
The Yankees scored four times in the fourth to open a 5-1 lead. Nick Swisher hit a leadoff single and came around on a one-out double by Martin. Eduardo Nunez singled Martin to third and Ramiro Pena hit a sacrifice fly to center. Gardner grounded a single to right before Granderson capped the rally with a two-run double.
Carlos Villanueva (5-2) lost for just the second time in 10 starts since joining the rotation in late May, giving up five runs and eight hits in six innings.
The Yankees added a run in the seventh against Luis Perez when Granderson scored on Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly.
Toronto's Jose Bautista missed his third straight game with a sore right ankle. Bautista, who leads the majors with 31 home runs, hit off a tee before the game and could return Tuesday against Seattle. The Blue Jays are off Monday.
"His absence in the lineup is a hole to fill," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "He's our leader, he's our most productive offensive player. That's not to slight anyone who's in the lineup right now, but that's a substantial loss when he's not in there day in and day out."
Gardner scored New York's first and last runs of the day. He singled, swiped second and scored on Swisher's base hit in the first. He pulled off a similar trick in the ninth, reaching on a walk before stealing second and scoring on Granderson's single.
The Blue Jays tied it at 1 when Edwin Encarnacion hit a leadoff double and scored on Travis Snider's single to left in the second.
NOTES: The Yankees are a major league-best 28-5 in day games. ... With New York in the midst of eight consecutive games on turf, SS Derek Jeter got the day off and Mark Teixeira moved from 1B to DH. Jorge Posada started at 1B, Nunez was at SS and Pena started at 3B. ... Posada played in his 1,790th game, moving past Bill Dickey into sole possession of eighth place on the Yankees' career list. ... Reliever Jason Frasor made his 453rd appearance with the Blue Jays, moving him past Duane Ward into first place on Toronto's list. ... New York recalled OF Chris Dickerson from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and optioned OF Greg Golson to Triple-A.