NEW YORK -- The pitching staff was spent. The hitters were exhausted. And manager Joe Torre had made enough nerve-racking decisions to last a lifetime.
Moments after starting a strong relay that cut down the potential go-ahead run at the plate, Cabrera singled home the winning run in the 10th inning for his fifth RBI to give New York a 12-11 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
"We needed this win. It would have been a huge blow to lose this game, especially after last night," Alex Rodriguez said. "It was like a heavyweight battle. You had the feeling that whoever batted last would get the win."
Cabrera's third big hit of the day ended a wild, messy, back-and-forth game that lasted exactly 5 hours -- after the start was delayed 92 minutes by rain. Plus, it came one day after the teams played 14 innings, a game Toronto won 5-4 even though New York rallied for four runs in the ninth.
The Yankees used a team-record 10 pitchers and again took advantage of a defensive misplay by second baseman Aaron Hill. They began the day 2½ games behind first-place Boston in the AL East and 4½ ahead of Detroit in the wild-card race. Both those teams played later Saturday night.
The surging Yankees trimmed their magic number to three for clinching the wild card and their 13th straight postseason appearance. They have won 13 of 16 overall.
"To be able to overcome the lack of pitching is huge," Torre said. "Last night knocked the hell out of us."
In the first two games of a four-game series, the teams combined to throw 825 pitches. They played 9 hours, 45 minutes of baseball in a 24½-hour span.
With both bullpens cooked following Friday night's marathon, the teams traded slim leads and key hits throughout the late innings. Nobody could get a big out, nobody could throw strikes, nobody could make that crucial play in the field.
Hill doubled over Cabrera's head in center with two outs in the top of the 10th, and 39-year-old lumberjack Matt Stairs tried to score from first. But he was thrown out on a pinpoint, connect-the-dots relay from Cabrera to his good buddy Robinson Cano to catcher Jorge Posada.
"That was as good of a relay as you'll ever see," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
Posada opened the bottom half with a bloop double off Josh Towers (5-10). Two outs later, Cabrera lined a single over Hill's head and raised his arms in jubilation on his way to first base.
Uncharacteristic for the buttoned-up Yankees, Cabrera was the center of a raucous celebration in the infield as the sellout crowd of 54,887 roared.
"I never had a game like that," Cabrera said through a translator.
Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui each drove in three runs for the Yankees, who used eight pitchers Friday night. Cabrera broke out of a long slump at the plate and Jeff Karstens (1-3) tossed a scoreless inning in his first major league outing since Aug. 14.
Towers was Toronto's eighth pitcher. The Blue Jays used seven the night before.
"Two great games. Both teams battling. I'm proud of our guys," Gibbons said. "That was probably a fun game to watch if you were a fan. We were into it and they've got a lot at stake."
Toronto lost three players to injuries: slugger Frank Thomas, starting pitcher Shaun Marcum and reliever Scott Downs. Thomas and Marcum each left with a sore right knee. Downs departed with a strained back.
Marcum went for an MRI exam on his knee, which has bothered him for a while. Thomas is doubtful for Sunday.
"It's a twisted knee," said Thomas, hurt on a swing in the muddy batters' box. "I don't think it's major, but I wasn't feeling too good."
Trailing 11-9 in the eighth, the Yankees put two runners on before Hill made a diving play on Wilson Betemit's groundout. Cabrera then hit a bouncer toward the middle that Hill should have handled, but the ball scooted under his glove for a two-run single.
Hill's two-out throwing error helped New York come back in the ninth inning Friday.
This time, the Yankees rallied to take a 9-8 lead in the seventh on Rodriguez's tiebreaking single. But Kyle Farnsworth, hampered by a stiff shoulder lately, couldn't hold it.
- Matsui's two-out triple in the fifth gave him 100 RBI.
- Rodriguez has 146 RBI.
- Curtis Thigpen's two-run single snapped an 0-for-23 skid.