Nick Swisher had a one-word adjective to describe CC Sabathia’s return to dominance.
“Awesome,” Swisher said. Though he threw in an expletive to emphasize the importance.
That was the same reaction of Yankee fans when Russell Martin led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a game-winning home run in Friday night’s thrilling 2-1 victory over the Athletics.
“Of the bat, it felt pretty good,” Martin said. “So yeah, I knew it was gone.”
“Probably, I would have to say so,” Girardi said of Martin’s home run being the biggest hit of the year. “With 13 games to go, we’re fighting to win the division and that’s a huge hit.”
The Yankees won their sixth in a row, improved to 11-4 in their last 15 games and more importantly remained one game in front of Baltimore, which defeated the Red Sox.
“It’s just one of those things that I’m so excited for,” Swisher said. “We haven’t exactly had that walk-off magic that we’ve had in the past couple of years but we’re grinding out games right now and regardless of how we win them, we’re trying to win them that way.”
The latest victory came on a night where the most encouraging sign was Sabathia’s performance. Sabathia showcased some of his most dominating stuff of the year in allowing three hits in eight shutout innings.
“Outstanding,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think it was important for him. It was important for us. I talked about it — if you’re going to get on a roll, now is the right time.”
Sabathia also struck out 11 for his 33rd career double-digit strikeout game. And this one had the potential to be special. Sabathia made it to the sixth inning without allowing a hit and then recovered after his bid was broken up by Stephen Drew’s leadoff single.
After the only hit, Sabathia continued throwing dominant off-speed stuff that enabled him to flirt with his first no-hitter while getting several swings and misses.
“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Girardi said. “Being effective with his other pitches as well and they couldn’t sit on one pitch. He worked some fastballs away as well and that sets up sometimes his slider down and in.”
The first no-hitter for Sabathia did not happen as Drew erased that possibility with his base hit on a 93 mph fastball. He followed up losing his no-hit bid by blowing fastballs clocked between 94 mph and 96 mph for strikeouts and then escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
“I was just trying not to overthrow,” Sabathia said. “I felt pretty good coming out of the bullpen. I just wanted to make sure I kept my delivery together and make sure I commanded the ball. The velocity will come and go so it’s up to me to make pitches.
“He owned his fastball today,” Swisher said. “He was spotting it up. When you’ve got that fastball at 93, 94 miles per hour coming in and he drops a little snapdragon on you backdoor, just great placement. I’m really happy for him.”
The downside was a high pitch count sent Sabathia to the clubhouse for the ninth where he watched Rafael Soriano blow his fourth save. Soriano was pitching with a “dead arm” from having pitched two games Wednesday and it showed when a slider to Brandon Moss did not break and landed in the second deck in right, costing Sabathia his 14th win and delaying the Yankees’ 87th victory.
By the time David Robertson pitched a flawless 10th, Sabathia was relaxing in the clubhouse and when Martin’s bat met Sean Doolittle’s 0-1 fastball, he knew the destination and the significance.
“Of course, right off the bat I knew it was gone,” Sabathia said. “He called a great game tonight and kept the guys off-balance and it worked out.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.