During the 2001 World Series, the Arizona Diamondback pitcher Curt Schilling was asked about the New York Yankees' "aura and mystique." Schilling replied that Aura and Mystique were names of exotic dancers, and nothing more. And even though the Yankees pulled off two mystical, aura-ringed comebacks in that series, the Diamondbacks won it. Their Game 7 triumph over Mariano Rivera, with Schilling himself pitching strongly and deep into the game, provided the title of Buster Olney's excellent book, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty.
But at the DBAP last night, Yankee aura and mystique seemed alive and well. There were clusters of transplanted Yankee fans at either end of the Scranton dugout, waiting for autographs and attempting to banter with the Yankee farmhands limbering up in left field. The favorite among these players is Shelley Duncan, a 6'5" power hitter who looks something like a cross between Frankenstein's monster and Beavis of Beavis & Butthead. When Duncan was called out on strikes in the sixth inning, he turned and had words the home plate umpire, looming over him like a very angry vulture.
The ballpark had an extra buzz with Yankees swarming it, even though the crowd was again small for last night's game -- which, had the Bulls lost, would have been the last of the year for the Bulls. When Scranton tied the game in the top of the eighth inning, it seemed like they might have gotten some help from either Mystique or Aura. But the affections of an exotic dancer are temporary: Durham's Nathan Haynes knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, salvaging the game and, for at least one more night, the Bulls' season.
Tonight's game -- another one the Bulls must win to prolong their season -- should draw even more Yankees to the park: Scranton sends Phil Hughes to the mound. Despite the bumps on his road to stardom, and despite the emergence of Joba Chamberlain, Hughes is still considered by some to be the Yankees' top prospect. Last year, in his second major league start, he no-hit the Texas Rangers for seven innings before tearing a hamstring. He spent most of the rest of the season recovering from that injury.
This year, he was hoping to lead the cavalry of young guns who were expected to form the nucleus of the new Yankee dynasty. But Hughes, who is still just 22 years old, struggled from the start and then was found to be hurt again early in the 2008 campaign. After more injury rehab, he was assigned to Scranton. He struggled there, too, but has since regained his form. In his last start, he suffocated Pawtucket on four hits over eight innings. Shelley Duncan told reporters that it was the best he'd ever seen Hughes pitch.
Tonight is a chance to see Hughes in action before his inevitable return to the Bronx next year. He faces the Bulls' Wade Davis, who threw six strong innings against Louisville on Sunday. Last night's game saw the two teams combine for 20 strikeouts. With so many of the Bulls' best hitters marching down to Tampa (Dan Johnson and seasoned catcher Michel Hernandez were the most recent to earn promotions), expect to see a lot swinging and missing again, especially with Hughes on the mound.