Alex Rodriguez belted his 591st career home run as the Yankees ran their winning streak to five games behind Sabathia, who was well aware that it'd been a while since a victory had been added to his tally, having last won May 3 against the Orioles.
That wasn't all Sabathia's doing -- there was a rain-shortened blowout against the Red Sox in which he was one out shy of qualifying for the win, and starts against Boston and the Indians where he handed off leads only to watch the bullpen give it up.
No matter -- after five unrewarded efforts, facing Baltimore again proved to be the tonic, as the Yankees improved to a season-high 14 games over .500.
"I thought he threw the ball well," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "CC's used to pitching at a very high level. Whether he needed [a win] or not, I think it's good for his spirits. We know that CC's going to throw the ball well for us. It's good for his personality."
Sabathia limited the Orioles to three hits and was bit only by the long ball, allowing Adam Jones' solo home run in the third inning and Luke Scott's two-run homer in the seventh.
"He's very close to going on a tear like he did in the middle of the season last year," said pitching coach Dave Eiland. "He left two pitches out over the plate for home runs, but I saw better two-seamers, changeups and cutters. He wasn't dominant, but he was still good."
"I'd get ahead of guys and not put them away the last couple of starts," Sabathia said. "I'd get 1-2, 0-2, and guys would foul a couple of pitches off and it turns into a long at-bat. Today I was able to put guys away."
The Yankees gasped briefly in the fifth when Sabathia was struck in his pitching hand by Jones' one-hopper back to the mound, but after tossing a warmup pitch at Girardi's request, Sabathia remained in the game and finished with one walk and seven strikeouts.
"He does it all the time, you know?" Brett Gardner said. "It's definitely scary, especially how important that left hand is, not only to him but the team and our season. I'm sure it's something that they're going to keep getting on him about. It's just reflexes."
Sabathia left his most recent start on May 29 by entrusting a five-run lead to the bullpen against the Indians, but Joba Chamberlain answered the call this time, hurling a scoreless eighth before Mariano Rivera worked out of trouble in the ninth for his 12th save.
"Our starting pitching was really good on this homestand. We hit the ball well on this homestand," Girardi said. "I'm happy with the homestand. It was a very good homestand. We've won three series in a row, and we want to try to continue to do that."
With reports circulating about Thursday being Dave Trembley's final game at the helm of the Orioles, New York knocked around Baltimore starter Kevin Millwood for six runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees put up two runs in the first inning, as Millwood stumbled while throwing a pitch for a balk that forced home a run and Robinson Cano laced a run-scoring double to left-center, extending his hitting streak to 17 games, tying Florida's Jorge Cantu for the Majors' longest this year.
Rodriguez closed within nine homers of 600 with a two-run shot into the right-field seats, his eighth of the season. Curtis Granderson stroked a run-scoring single that made it 5-1, reminding the Yankees how much better their lineup looked this week with both Granderson and Jorge Posada active.
"I definitely think it makes our lineup much deeper, much longer," Rodriguez said. "Obviously Grandy had a great homestand and Jorgie gave us a nice lift. Again, it doesn't matter who we play. I think we have to focus on ourselves, and if we execute like we know how to do, we should win more than not."
Gardner tacked on his third homer in the sixth inning off Millwood, who finished his effort with four walks and five strikeouts.
"The wind was pushing balls out today," Gardner said. "I thought it had a chance, but I wasn't sure. He's a guy that throws a lot of cutters in. You get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it."
Eiland has worked with Sabathia on mechanical adjustments, trying to get his sinkers and changeups not to cut as much. Those tweaks seemed in order on Thursday, and the Yankees are hoping that Sabathia is about to make a run like last year, when he was 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA after the All-Star break.
"I'm just going out game-to-game," Sabathia said. "Every year is different and you can't really take that for granted, that you're going to have a good second half. You want to go out and help this team win as many games as you can."