CHICAGO -- Rain was pelting U.S. Cellular Field, players were heading for cover and the grounds crew dashed to get the tarp on the infield. And there was Phil Hughes, approaching the mound for the bottom of the seventh inning as if play would resume like normal. Hughes, apparently, wanted to pitch forever.
Could you blame him?
In what was his most important start of the season, Hughes displayed his sharpest form of 2011, hurling six breezy innings against the White Sox and needing only 65 pitches to do it.
Only inclement weather could stop him.
The anticipated showers that delayed the start of the game by 45 minutes finally came down when the Yankees finished hitting in the top of the seventh, causing another delay. By that point, New York held a 6-0 lead and Hughes had looked every bit like that elusive 19-game winner from last year.
Fifty-seven minutes later, the game was called.
But Hughes just wanted to keep pitching. He was having fun again.
"I tried to stay out there," Hughes said with a laugh. "I talked to [home-plate umpire] Ted [Barrett], and hopefully he'd change his mind. But that's just the way it goes."
It may have been only six innings, but Hughes showed enough.
On the road, against a rather desperate White Sox team and with a rotation competition against Ivan Nova in the background, the 25-year-old right-hander was efficient, effective and electric. He gave up just three hits, walked none, struck out four and didn't put a single runner in scoring position.
The shutout was Hughes' first since May 12, 2010. And his stuff reminded the right-hander of that one-hitter he threw against Oakland on April 21 of that same standout season.
As for the pressure?
"It didn't really come to my mind, everything that was going on," Hughes said. "It was more of a personal thing for me. I wanted to pitch well, and I knew I could do better than what I had been showing. And that was basically it. I wanted to satisfy myself before anybody else. I'm pretty satisfied with this one, and hopefully it's something that'll continue."
Hughes had posted a 5.48 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, an injury that could've been the reason for a drop in velocity. He gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings against the lowly Athletics on July 22, then yielded nine hits -- though only two runs -- to a subpar Mariners offense last Wednesday.
Leading up to Hughes' outing, manager Joe Girardi opted to give Nova -- who pitched well in his big league return -- Thursday's start and go with a six-man rotation this week, with the hope of trimming it back down to five after Monday's off-day.
Girardi got what he wanted -- a tough decision.
"We have to talk about this," Girardi said. "Maybe we stay at six-man rotation. I don't know what we're going to do at this moment, but I'm happy with what I saw tonight."
Girardi was happiest with Hughes' fastball, which was relied upon heavily, especially in an all-fastball, 10-pitch first inning. The right-hander reached 95 mph on three occasions, according to Pitch f/x.
"He was awesome," said first baseman Mark Teixeira, who paced the offense with a record-setting two-homer game. "You can tell from the first inning that he had his stuff. He had his fastball, he was locating. He pitched great. Best I've seen him all year."
On this night, Teixeira homered from each side of the plate for the 12th time in his career, setting a Major League record in that department. Teixeira hit a two-run homer off White Sox starter John Danks from the right side in the third inning, then hit a solo shot from the left side off Jason Frasor in the seventh.
The two homers gave Teixeira 31 on the year and cemented his eighth straight season with 30-plus homers.
The Yankees have now won five straight, nine of their last 12 games and the first two of a seven-game road trip that will finish up with a weekend series at Fenway Park. With the win, New York stayed a game back of the Red Sox for first place in the American League East and maintained a seven-game lead in the AL Wild Card race.
Tuesday's game may have lasted only six innings, but the Yankees had 11 hits and three homers, the other long ball supplied by Russell Martin.
"Right now, the way they swing the bats as a team, you'd better be good -- very good -- to shut those guys down," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "It seems like they're owning every pitch."
Hughes did that, too.
While moving his ERA to 0.75 in 24 career innings against Chicago, Hughes threw 74 percent of his pitches for strikes and seemed to regain his confidence.
"He's had a rough year," Girardi said. "It's not been easy for him, and he's given up his share of hits. You can see the confidence growing, him being more aggressive as the game went on and not getting away from who he is."
The Yankees hope this is who Hughes is the rest of the way.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.