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Biertempfel: Pirates' Hughes faces tough issue

| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, 11:22 p.m.

CINCINNATI — Reliever Jared Hughes received emails and texts Tuesday morning from people he knows, friends and family, asking if he really was a racist. Hughes was shaken by the messages.

In the wee hours of that morning, Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds tweeted that some player had hurled a racial slur at him during the game against the Pirates. Phillips did not identify Hughes by name, but the indication was clear, as the two had an on-field spat after Phillips was hit by a pitch in the eighth inning.

Hughes can be an intimidating presence on the mound. He is 6-foot-7, bolts from the bullpen onto the field at full speed and stares down batters. That's his game face. Off the field, he is friendly and soft-spoken. None of his teammates have a harsh word to say about him.

Phillips thought he heard Hughes refer to him as “boy” on the field. Watching video replays of Hughes shouting at Phillips, even an amateur lip-reader can see Hughes said no such thing.

With an assist from mutual friend Andrew McCutchen, Hughes and Phillips worked out their differences during a phone call. “I respect him as a man,” Hughes said. “I love him as a brother,” Phillips said.

It seemed like a happy ending to what Phillips said was “just a big misunderstanding” — a kerfuffle sparked by Phillips' ill-advised tweet. Their chat might have cleared the air, but Hughes still must deal with people's altered perceptions of him, shaped by rumor and innuendo in social media.

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