The $161 million ace ignored a scary comebacker just below his neck and collarbone for his 18th victory, Mark Teixeira homered twice and drove in a season-high five runs and New York resumed their cruise to the AL East title with a 10-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night.
"When you are that big, it takes more than a line drive to get you out of there," Teixeira said of Sabathia, whose first pitch after getting lined the chest in the fifth inning was a 96 mph fastball.
Sabathia (18-7), who was 1-3 in early May, allowed four hits and one run in seven innings to bolster his candidacy for the AL's Cy Young Award. He walked two, struck out eight and tied Adam Wainwright of St. Louis for the major league lead in wins.
He also kept New York six games ahead of second-place Boston for the division lead, with 13 games left in the regular season.
But the Yankees' playoff prospects flashed before their stunned eyes in the bottom of the fifth.
Sabathia was coasting while up 6-0, thanks to Teixeira's three-run homer in a four-run top of the fifth. Then Franklin Gutierrez hit a liner high off Sabathia's chest. Manager Joe Girardi and a trainer rushed to Sabathia from the dugout, captain Derek Jeter ran in from his shortstop position, as did Alex Rodriguez from third base.
Girardi thought the ball hit Sabathia in the face. Teixeira thought it was the neck. For a moment, the key to New York's postseason rotation seemed to be in jeopardy.
Nah. He simply winced, rubbed where the ball hit, talked for a minute, refused a test warmup pitch -- and then shooed everyone away.
"There's sort of no treatment for getting hit in the chest," he said, smiling. "Just go get 'em.
"Alex startled me a little when he said, 'Oh, my God!' That's when I was scared," said Sabathia, who predicted a big bruise but vowed he'll start Friday against the Red Sox.
He finished the inning -- and two more scoreless ones after it, retiring the last seven he faced. But he lost the shutout in that fifth when Rodriguez skipped a rushed, one-hop throw way past Teixeira at first base on a ball hit by Jose Lopez. Gutierrez scored from first on the error.
"He had the best changeup I've seen in a long time," Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said.
His teammates were impressed.
"He's a horse. That's why he gets paid the big bucks," said Johnny Damon, who had three hits and has six in eight at-bats in the series. "We hope he stays indestructible."
Girardi was still sighing more than an hour after it happened.
"Yeah, that's a scary moment. You lose one of your starters, that could be devastating down the stretch here," the manager said. "We caught a break there."
One night after closer Mariano Rivera was stunned by a game-winning, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth by Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees reduced their magic number for clinching a 14th postseason appearance in 15 seasons to two games. They could make the playoffs as early as Sunday. Their magic number to clinch the division is nine.
Teixeira's five RBI leaves the MVP candidate with 118, most in the AL. He is second in the AL with 37 home runs, two behind injured Carlos Pena.
His second home run, in the ninth off Luke French, just cleared the wall in left-center field. Had it gone off it, he likely would have hit for his second career cycle.
"Overachiever!" his teammates yelled at Teixeira when he returned to the dugout.
Hideki Matsui hit his 26th home run in the fourth, a towering drive off rookie starter Doug Fister that had the large crowd gasping. He passed Don Baylor for most homers by a Yankees' designated hitter in a season. It was also his 86th RBI. Matsui had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last Sept. 22 and has had his knee drained multiple times this season, and Girardi said before the game he may not have been able to predict such production this season for the 35-year-old.
Fister (2-3) allowed nine hits and six runs in four-plus innings. The 25-year-old allowed half that many runs when he beat New York on Aug. 16.
- Sabathia improved to 6-1 at Safeco Field. He also regained the AL lead in innings from Seattle's Felix Hernandez. Sabathia has thrown 220 1/3.
- Carlos Silva, Seattle's $48 million starter, allowed two hits, a walk and a run while getting two outs in the eighth. It was his first appearance since a start on May 6. He missed 114 games while on the disabled list with a bum shoulder.
- Teixeira's triple in the first inning was his third in the last five games. He had none in his first 139 games this season.