DETROIT -- Phil Hughes went into Game 3 of the American League Championship Series hoping to pitch his Yankees back into contention, but instead the right-hander wound up lasting just three-plus innings before his back tightened up enough that manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen.
Hughes said his lower back began stiffening before the fourth inning and led to his inability to finish pitches the way he needed. After hanging a breaking ball that Delmon Young smoked over the left-field wall for the first run of the game, Hughes walked Andy Dirks and had thrown two pitches to Jhonny Peralta when Girardi went to the mound with trainers in tow.
After a brief conversation, Hughes' night was done. And though his bullpen did an excellent job in keeping the game close, Hughes wound up taking the loss in a 2-1 defeat that leaves the Yankees in a 3-0 series deficit.
"It wasn't so bad that I couldn't have pitched," Hughes said, "but the way things were going and obviously the circumstances of this game, Joe didn't want to take any chances. If I made a couple more mistakes that inning, it could have been a lead we couldn't overcome. But it wasn't too bad and I was trying to stay in there."
Girardi said the decision was simple.
"His low back on the left side tightened up a little bit," Girardi said. "We will see how he is tomorrow and we'll see what we [do] tomorrow, which will determine what we do with him."
Hughes had similar back problems a year ago, but he said this wasn't as serious. The situation, however, was as serious as could be with the Yankees fighting to stay with Tigers ace Justin Verlander and avoid losing their third straight.
Hughes said this was the first time he's felt any problem in his back this year.
"In that fourth, I was having a tough time finishing pitches, especially the breaking balls," he said. "The one I hung to Delmon Young was just a spinner back over the plate. That along with the walk, things weren't going well. That's when Joe and Larry decided to come out."
Hughes threw three scoreless innings, working around two walks and a pair of singles, before Young took him deep in the fourth.
Including the postseason, Hughes has allowed at least one home run in 27 of his 34 starts this year, and he was tied for second in the Majors for most home runs in the regular season with 35.
Hughes' three-plus-inning outing was the first start of less than 6 2/3 innings by a Yankees starter this postseason. He had just one shorter start this season, throwing 2 2/3 innings on April 25 at Texas when he gave up four runs on five hits before being removed after 52 pitches.
The 25-year-old was at 61 pitches when he was taken out Tuesday.