Sabathia struck out 10 batters over eight innings and New York beat the Minnesota Twins 8-2 on Wednesday to remain 1½ games ahead of Baltimore in the AL East.
The Orioles beat Toronto 12-2 on Wednesday night. The Yankees visit the Blue Jays for four games starting Thursday. Baltimore, after an off day, plays Boston at home this weekend. Sabathia will pitch again next week when the Yankees host the Red Sox.
"This is what he can do. He can string a bunch of good ones together. And if there's a time, now's the time," manager Joe Girardi said.
Sabathia (14-6) threw 89 of his 118 pitches for strikes, including three straight to Twins All-Star Joe Mauer for the second of his three strikeouts in the fourth inning. Mauer, who began the day three points in the batting race behind Detroit's Triple Crown chaser Miguel Cabrera with a .326 average, went 0 for 4.
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"That's the best I've seen him, and I've been watching him for a long time," Mauer said. "When I was up there he was both sides of the plate: fastball, slider, sinker. He threw me everything, and everything was working."
Sabathia spent two stints on the disabled list this summer, for a strained left groin and an inflamed left elbow. This was his first win in six starts, and he credited impeccable command of his fastball to set up his other pitches.
"We're in a race. We know it's going to be tough. So you want to go out and do well every time out," Sabathia said, adding: "Hopefully I can go out and pitch well again the next time. I'll take what I can out of this one and be ready to go five days from now."
Robinson Cano hit a two-run double and Curtis Granderson added a two-run triple during a six-run third inning against Brian Duensing (4-11), and Sabathia took care of the rest. The burly lefty gave up six hits, two runs and one walk.
Sabathia improved to 10-0 with a 1.96 ERA in his past 11 appearances against the Twins, including the 2009 and 2010 postseason. He threw eight scoreless innings in his previous start against Oakland, striking out 11, but didn't get the victory because the Yankees won in the 10th. Matt Carson and Pedro Florimon had RBI singles, but that was about the only solid contact Sabathia allowed.
Chris Dickerson also hit a two-run homer for the Yankees, who lost to the Twins on Tuesday night and played without third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who has a bruised left foot. Derek Jeter's 19-game hitting streak ended with an 0-for-4 afternoon, but he walked and scored in the third.
The Yankees enjoyed a tension-free afternoon while winning for the 12th time in their past 16 games. Even the bad plays turned out all right.
Granderson was picked off first base in the second inning, but he scored on a wild pitch in the third.
Eric Chavez, thinking there were two outs instead of one in the fifth inning, casually fielded a grounder at third and stepped on the base for the force as he jogged toward the dugout before stopping and realizing his mistake. Sabathia shouted assurance to Chavez, whose embarrassed "oops" expression was frozen on the jumbo video screen above left-center field to the crowd's amusement.
"I'm glad they were entertained," Chavez said, smiling.
But after a passed ball by Chris Stewart put runners at second and third and threatened to exploit Chavez's blunder, Sabathia calmly retired Denard Span on a groundout to first to keep the lead at 6-1. If Chavez had tried to turn the double play, he might've only got one out anyway, Girardi said, which would've led to a run on the passed ball.
"Sometimes things work out right," Girardi said.
Starter Samuel Deduno struck out two without a hit or a run despite two walks. After the second one, though, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and assistant athletic trainer Dave Pruemer came to the mound for a long talk with the right-hander with two outs in the second inning. The diagnosis was irritation in his left eye, and Deduno was removed for Duensing.
He put seven straight runners on, including two walks, before finishing the inning. Duensing, who started a postseason game against the Yankees in 2009 and 2010, let his ERA rise from 4.68 to 5.15.
"I feel like we're playing our best ball now, and this is the perfect time to be doing that," said Nick Swisher, who had an RBI single.
- RH Ivan Nova (12-7, 4.94 ERA) pitches for the Yankees on Thursday against RH Brandon Morrow (8-7, 3.28 ERA) of the Blue Jays.
- The Twins are off on Thursday before hosting Detroit this weekend. They'll send LH Scott Diamond (12-8, 3.64 ERA) to the mound on Friday, opposite RH Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.82 ERA) of the Tigers.
- The Yankees have homered in each of their past 12 games against the Twins, totaling 25 in that span.
- The Yankees notched their 90th win for the 15th time in the past 17 seasons.
- Swisher made a nifty scoop and throw to get Ben Revere out on a slow roller in the first inning. He has been playing 1B with Mark Teixeira rehabilitating his strained right calf. "I'm just trying to keep it warm until my boy Tex gets back," Swisher said. Girardi left open the possibility of Teixeira returning to the team this weekend in Toronto.