If you looked at the Yankees lineup on Tuesday night with no idea about how the season unfolded to that point, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they were playing out the string in the Bronx.
Steve Pearce, recently acquired from lowly Houston and owner of a sub-.400 slugging percentage, was in the lineup batting fourth as the designated hitter as a result of Mark Teixeira's calf injury. Russell Martin, in the midst of a horrendously bad offensive season, was batting fifth ahead of Curtis Granderson in a lineup that seemed designed to rearrange every thought we've ever had about building a lineup.
These are not the Yankees who bludgeon other teams under a barrage of home runs hit by a lineup studded with names that elicit strong reactions that have nothing to do with trying to figure out exactly who that guy Pearce might be. The night started with the team in first place, but the injuries and the attrition seemed to be on the verge of really taking its toll on playoff chances.
Or not. The Yankees scratched their way into a couple of runs and rode Phil Hughes for seven innings for a 2-1 win that added a game to the lead when the Rays' own take on anemic offense led them to a 1-0 loss in Texas.
The rallies that got the Yankees their runs didn't feel familiar. The first scored on three singles and the second when Pearce walked, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a pair of outs.
Again, this isn't the Yankee team that bludgeons the opposition. It also wasn't the only part of the game where it felt like your eyes were playing tricks on you.
Hughes is something of an optical illusion as well. His stuff looked fairly pedestrian, as it often does, and Hughes allowed his 30th homer of the season as a result, but he wound up giving up just that one run while keeping the Blue Jays in check for seven innings.
He got help from awful Toronto baserunning to get out of one jam, but took care of other danger all by himself even as it looked like disaster would strike at any moment. The problem with Hughes as a key part of the rotation is that the disaster could pop up at any time, but nights like Tuesday are a reminder that you could (and the Yankees have) do a lot worse for the fourth guy in the rotation.
The Yankees need Andy Pettitte back to make Hughes the fourth guy, something that took another step toward becoming reality when the lefty threw off flat ground on Tuesday. That would be crucial, because all of the strange sights can't get in the way of something that's as clear as a bell.
Pitching, not a lineup that has plenty of non-Pearce/Martin pop, will determine how far the team goes this season. Hughes will be part of deciding that destination which, for a night anyway, felt like a very good thing indeed.