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NEW YORK -- On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the New York Yankees were stifled by a pair of aces.
On Thursday afternoon, the Yanks' own ace returned the favor.
CC Sabathia pitched eight strong innings, relinquishing just two runs (one earned) on five hits, as the Yankees salvaged the final game of their three-game series with Seattle, beating the Mariners, 4-2.
Sabathia was even better than those numbers indicate. Through seven innings, he allowed only a harmless double and two singles, preserving the Yankees' 2-0 lead. In the eighth, he put runners on first and second via a walk to Josh Bard and a single by Ichiro Suzuki. But it was Jorge Posada's passed ball that allowed the runners to advance to second and third. Then Russell Branyan singled them both home, tying the ballgame.
But Alex Rodriguez came to Sabathia's rescue in the bottom of the eighth, hitting a two-run homer to put the Yankees back in front and allowing Sabathia to still collect his 10th win of the season.
"CC threw a great game," Rodriguez said afterward. "He's been pitching great for us; you wanna reward him with a win."
To call this a must-win would be a gross exaggeration, considering the Yankees (48-30) have the best record in Major League Baseball. But it was an important game. The Yanks had been shut down the past two days by Seattle's filthy 1-2 combination of Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, garnering only 10 hits combined in those two games. The last thing they wanted to do was get swept at home by a last-place team.
Luckily for them, they had their maestro on the mound Thursday.
"We didn't give him a lot of wiggle room, but I thought he shut Seattle down today," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Sabathia. "That's what you expect from your ace. When you're in a little losing streak, that's what aces do."
The performance was especially impressive considering Sabathia didn't think he had his best stuff on Thursday.
"I felt like I didn't have really good command from the start, so I was just tryin' to go out there and battle and keep us in the game," said Sabathia, who only walked two batters but threw a season-high 117 pitches.
"I have no idea," Sabathia replied, when asked what was wrong on Thursday. "We'll have to watch tape and see what happened. The fastball command just wasn't there."
Regardless, Sabathia has now picked up a win in six consecutive starts -- this after going five straight starts in May without a win. Sabathia is now 10-3 with a 3.33 ERA on the season. It's only the second time he's won six consecutive starts in his career, and only the second time he's reached the double-digit mark for wins before the All-Star break -- and he's still scheduled for two more starts before this year's Midsummer Classic.
Sabathia's catcher, in particular, sounded relieved about the Yankees' win in the clubhouse after the game, considering the passed ball. "I was the happiest," Posada said. "You don't wanna put CC in that situation. & CC did a helluva job."
The Yankees' starting pitching has carried them so far this season -- A-Rod admitted as much after the game on Thursday. Much of the talk, and credit, has centered on young Phil Hughes, who's emerged from being a reliever last year to winning 10 games himself so far this season. And 38-year-old Andy Pettitte has been terrific as well, currently sporting a 9-2 record with a 2.72 ERA.
But Sabathia is the undisputed ace of this pitching staff. He was brought to the Bronx prior to last season to assume that role, and proved to be more than capable on the Yankees' road to their 27th world championship.
Games like this one remind you what, or rather, who, is the most important card in the deck.
Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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