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Yankees unkind to Twins' Hughes

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes pitches in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Target Field on Thursday. Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The New York Yankees dugout may be full of Phil Hughes’ friends, but they sure didn’t treat him that way Thursday night.

Hughes faced the minimum 12 batters through four innings, and seemed to be outdueling New York ace Masahiro Tanaka. But the Yankees turned on their former teammate, somehow turning a nice reunion into the ugliest start of Hughes’ season, and the Minnesota Twins lost for the eighth time in 10 games, 7-4 at Target Field.

Tanaka also suffered what technically is his worst start since coming to the major leagues, but it hardly mattered once New York’s bats got going. Tanaka broke a personal two-game losing streak by holding the Twins to four runs over seven innings — his first outing that didn’t meet the technical requirements of a “quality start”— but became baseball’s first 12-game winner anyway.

And Hughes? Before Thursday’s game, manager Ron Gardenhire discussed the right-hander, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent last December, as a dark-horse All-Star candidate. Those chances are probably over now, after Hughes was battered for seven runs for the first time since May 15, 2013, when he was a Yankee.

In fact, Hughes has now allowed 17 runs in his last three starts, covering 19 innings. That’s an 8.05 ERA that has pushed his season mark to 3.95, and left the Twins wondering where the dominating right-hander who posted six consecutive wins earlier this season has gone.

He had little trouble in the first four innings, giving up just a single to Ichiro Suzuki, who was quickly erased on a double play. With an early 2-0 lead, it looked like Hughes, who dominated his old team in Yankee Stadium during a 7-2 victory on June 1, would do it again.

But in the fifth inning, after being staked to a 2-0 lead, Hughes unraveled. Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann opened the inning with back-to-back singles, and Carlos Beltran followed with a booming 400-foot home run to right-center field, the deepest part of the ballpark.

That home run gave Beltran 467 career homers, by the way, moving him into fourth place on the career list among switch-hitters. Only Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504) and Chipper Jones (468) have more.

But the Yankees weren’t done. Two batters later, Zelous Wheeler, a journeyman minor-league who was called up Thursday to make his major-league debut, smacked a Hughes fastball into the Yankees’ bullpen, a first-big-league-hit that he’ll never forget.

Two innings later, Wheeler followed a Suzuki walk by adding a single, and Brendan Ryan followed with an RBI double, finishing Hughes’ night. Brian Duensing relieved, but gave up a Brett Gardner single to score Wheeler, and a fielders-choice grounder by Derek Jeter that the Twins couldn’t convert into a double play, allowing Ryan to score, too.

That was more than enough offense for Tanaka, even though he was not at his best. The Twins scored single runs in the first, third, sixth and seventh innings off the right-hander, and scratched out nine hits against him, the most Tanaka has allowed in his 17 major-league starts. Chris Parmelee’s first inning double gave the Twins an early lead, Kurt Suzuki and Kendrys Morales drove in runs on ground outs, and Eduardo Escobar followed a Trevor Plouffe double with an RBI single.