The left-handed ace was activated for the start and showed no ill effects of the left elbow inflammation that shelved him for his second -- and, he hopes, final -- stint on the disabled list this season.
"We've got our boy back," said Nick Swisher, who belted a go-ahead two-run homer and drove in all three New York runs. "We got our horse. This guy's been doing it his whole career; coming back to a place that he used to call home, I definitely think he wanted to pick up a win today. It was nice to be able to give it to him."
Swisher blasted a two-run home run off reliever Cody Allen in the seventh inning, putting the Yankees ahead as they snapped their three-game losing streak. The home run was the 100th of Swisher's Yankees career.
"He's been swinging really well," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who was aboard for the blast. "My job is to get on base, and his job is either to try to get me in. Today, he got rewarded for trying to do the right thing and move me over; he hit the home run."
In the ninth, closer Rafael Soriano worked himself into a jam with runners at second and third and no outs. Part of the problem was a cross-up, as Soriano was supposed to fake to third base and throw to first and instead threw a slider in the dirt that skipped away for a wild pitch.
"He said he never got that call all year," catcher Russell Martin said. "When he stepped off the first time, I should have went and talked to him. That's my fault."
Soriano rebounded by getting a strikeout, a popout and a groundout to wriggle free and earn his 32nd save, sending the Indians to their ninth straight loss.
"We hadn't had an opportunity to put him in a game," manager Joe Girardi said. "Sometimes you worry about guys being a little bit rusty, and maybe he's a little bit rusty. But he found a way."
New York threatened early against rookie Corey Kluber and had the right-hander on the ropes in both the first and second innings but emerged with just one run to show for its efforts, leaving the bases loaded both times.
The Yankees put a quick run on the board as Jeter and Swisher opened the game with doubles, but Kluber pitched out of trouble. He was also able to escape damage in the second inning despite hitting Jeter in the batting helmet with a 92-mph fastball.
The blow knocked the helmet off Jeter's head, and the impact cracked the brim. The captain stayed in the game, scowling as he walked down the first-base line and waving off head athletic trainer Steve Donohue.
"Of course you're angry," Jeter said. "No one wants to get hit in the head. It's kind of a dangerous area, so of course I was upset. It's over with, it's done with, it's history now."
Kluber said he had lost control of the pitch, telling reporters, "It was just an inside fastball. There was no intent. It just got away from me."
Both benches were warned in the fourth inning as Sabathia threw behind Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera in what may have been retaliation for the Jeter hit-by-pitch.
"It got away," Sabathia said, later adding, "It cut a lot."
Cabrera replied by slugging Sabathia's next pitch over the center-field wall, his 14th home run of the year, to break up Sabathia's string of 10 straight batters retired to open the contest.
"It was a two-seamer, but it was up," Sabathia said. "In the first at-bat, he had fouled that pitch straight back. [It was the] same pitch, so he was right on it and put a good swing on it."
That hot start to open the game came as no surprise to Martin, who could tell Sabathia seemed sharp in the bullpen.
"He looked really smooth in the bullpen, and he had control and command of all his pitches," Martin said. "Normally when he does that, he's going to pitch a good game, and that's what he did today."
The Indians loaded the bases in the fifth against Sabathia, but the ace worked out of trouble, inducing Jason Kipnis to hit into an inning-ending groundout.
Swisher's homer put Sabathia in position for his third straight winning start, a string dating to Aug. 3 at Seattle and including his Aug. 8 effort at Detroit, Sabathia's last outing before the DL assignment.
"That's what you want to do," Sabathia said. "It's a 1-1 game, Swish hits a big homer, you want to go out and try to shut it down. I think that really helped."