NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia recovered from a shaky first inning to provide six solid frames and Brett Gardner drove in a pair of runs on Tuesday evening, leading the Yankees to a 5-2 victory over the Twins in another meeting of the top clubs in the American League Wild Card hunt.
Gardner and Starlin Castro each had three hits as the Yankees won their sixth straight series. Sabathia limited Minnesota to a solo homer and a run-scoring double-play grounder in a 77-pitch outing, helping the Yankees remain three games behind the Red Sox in the American League East chase while moving six games ahead of the Twins for the first AL Wild Card spot.
"I think we have a team that's always fighting," Castro said. "We've been playing pretty good. I think the whole lineup has been doing its job. That's one of the things that we do all season, and in the beginning of the season, I think the guys started hitting the ball well. That's the best time now, September, as we're looking to be in the playoffs."
The Yankees' magic number to clinch a postseason spot is down to five. Minnesota's lead for the second AL Wild Card remained at 1 1/2 after the Angels lost to the Indians on Tuesday night.
Gardner stroked a run-scoring double in the second inning and a run-scoring single in the fourth off Twins starter Jose Berrios, who threw 90 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings. Max Kepler hit a third-inning solo homer off Sabathia, who moved into third place among lefties with 2,836 career strikeouts, surpassing Mickey Lolich (2,832).
"I felt good. At this point in my career, all the rest I can get is good rest for me," Sabathia said. "It's a lot of fun. Every game from here on out is going to be a big game. We've got so many youngsters stepping up that it's a lot of fun to see."
Aaron Judge and Castro also drove in runs for the Yankees, who have won 13 of their last 17 games. The start of the game was delayed by 65 minutes due to rain.
"They had good at-bats against me," Berrios said through a translator. "They saw me earlier in the year and made adjustments. I tried to attack with my fastball, curveball and changeup, but they took a lot of pitches and were able to have a good night."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Figured it out: Sabathia was searching for his stuff early, as Brian Dozier led off with a single, Joe Mauer legged out a bunt hit and Jorge Polanco loaded the bases on a replay-reviewed hit. The Yanks traded a run for two outs on Eduardo Escobar's double-play ball to shortstop, and Sabathia got Byron Buxton to tap back to the mound, part of a string in which the lefty retired 15 of 16 Twins hitters around Kepler's homer.
"He got a big double-play ball. I think that was the big out," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He gave up a broken-bat hit to lead it off, a perfect bunt by Joe Mauer and then I think Todd [Frazier] probably could have made that play if he barehanded it, but he used his glove. Then CC got a big double play and kept it to a minimum."
Just booted it: With manager Paul Molitor using his bullpen liberally, the Twins trailed by a run in the fifth inning, but a rare error by Mauer allowed the Yanks to add an important insurance run. Buddy Boshers got Greg Bird to hit a grounder to first base that should have been the final out of the inning, but Mauer couldn't handle it for his second error of the year, and Chase Headley trotted home with the fourth Yankees run.
"It catches your eye because he hadn't missed a ground ball all year," Molitor said. "It took a funny kick. He gets into the keep-the-ball-in-front mode with two outs, and he's usually so soft he absorbs it, but it kicked off somehow. But the last thing I'll ever do is be critical of Joe Mauer not catching a ball, because it hasn't happened in a long time."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Yankees (84-67) are a season-high 17 games over .500, their highest watermark since they were 17 games over .500 on Sept. 27, 2015.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Twins successfully challenged a play in the first, when Polanco was ruled out at first on a bunt attempt. But after a review, the call on the field was overturned, giving the Twins back-to-back bunt singles against Sabathia.
Twins: Right-hander Bartolo Colon (6-13, 6.39 ERA) is set to start for the Twins in the series finale on Wednesday at 12:05 p.m. CT. Colon allowed four runs over six-plus innings against the Blue Jays his last time out, and he was hurt by two homers.
Yankees: Right-hander Luis Severino (13-6, 2.93 ERA) will start Wednesday's 1:05 p.m. ET series finale, with the Yankees deciding to keep him on regular rest. He is coming off a gem against the Orioles in which he allowed two runs and three hits in eight innings, striking out seven. Severino has never faced Minnesota.