MINNEAPOLIS -- As Phil Hughes laboured through the seventh inning, Joe Girardi saw reliable lefty Boone Logan warming in the bullpen, a string of four straight left-handed hitters for the Minnesota Twins due up and the Baltimore Orioles already losers to Toronto.
With a 3-1 lead and the bases loaded, Girardi decided to play it safe, and it cost the New York Yankees.
Logan couldn't hold the lead for Hughes as the Yankees missed a chance to go up 2 1/2 games on Baltimore in a 5-4 loss to the Twins on Tuesday night.
"It's tough," Hughes said. "I feel like I was throwing the ball well. It's a tough one to lose."
Hughes (16-13) was strong through six innings and the Yankees jumped out to a 3-1 lead. But he left with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh.
"The inning was so long and he'd worked so hard, and Boonie had done a good job in his career against Span, I decided to go with him," Girardi said.
Logan let one run score on a wild pitch before giving up a two-run double to Denard Span that put the Twins in front for good.
Joe Mauer followed with his third single of the game to cap the four-run seventh, and the Twins held on to keep the Orioles, who lost to Toronto earlier on Tuesday, 1 1/2 games back of New York in the AL East.
"It's easy to look back and criticize when your lefty who has been money all year doesn't get it done," catcher Russell Martin said. "I have to block the ball. That's what changed the inning."
Nick Swisher homered for the third straight game, Martin also went deep and Andruw Jones hit a pinch-hit solo shot off of closer Glen Perkins in the ninth inning for the Yankees. But Perkins struck out Jayson Nix for his 15th save.
Martin's soaring shot in the seventh off of Casey Fien (2-1) in the seventh was his 19th of the season, which ties a career high, and gave New York a 3-1 lead.
But Hughes ran into trouble in the bottom of the inning after allowing just one run on four hits in the first six. With much better command of his fastball and changeup than he's had lately, Fien retired nine of the next 10 batters after giving up an RBI double to Chris Parmelee in the fourth.
Then things went a little haywire for the 26-year-old right-hander. He gave up a single to Ryan Doumit, walked Parmelee and Jamey Carroll reached on an infield hit with one out to load the bases.
With Hughes at 99 pitches, Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to the lefty Logan to face a string of four straight left-handed hitters in the Twins lineup. Logan's first pitch was wild, getting by Martin to allow Doumit to score. Span followed with the double and Mauer the single to raise his average to .326, just behind Triple Crown candidate Miguel Cabrera (.329) in the American League.
Hughes said he wanted to stay in the game.
"I was hoping so," he said. "But I don't make those decisions. I pitch until I'm told to."
Logan said his slider just wasn't as sharp as it normally is.
"I was trying to battle through it but just had a bad game," he said.
It was a disappointing finish for Hughes, who has won three straight starts and was appearing to pick up steam with the post-season just over a week away. He finished with four runs on six hits and four strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings.
Derek Jeter extended his hitting streak to 19 games with a single in the first inning and Robinson Cano went 3 for 3 with a walk for the Yankees, who could have opened their largest division lead since Sept. 1.
Esmerling Vasquez gave up two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts in six innings for the Twins.
On the bright side for the Yankees, the loss didn't let Baltimore gain any ground.
"We had an opportunity," Girardi said. "But you can look at it the other way, too. We've got to come out and win the series tomorrow."
NOTES: On Monday night, Curtis Granderson joined Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi as the only Yankees to hit 40-plus HRs in back-to-back seasons. "Especially with the number of guys that have played for the Yankees and put the pinstripes on, at least for one sentence I get to get mentioned with those guys," Granderson said. "That's pretty cool." ... Twins OF Josh Willingham did not play because of a strained left shoulder. ... Mauer had only thrown out seven of 56 base runners on the season, but he went 2 for 2 on Tuesday night, getting Ichiro Suzuki and Martin on strike-em-out, throw-em-out double plays in the third and fourth. ... The Twins send RHP Samuel Deduno (6-5, 4.54) to the mound on Wednesday for the finale against LHP CC Sabathia (13-6, 3.47).