"I told him to finish it. 'Go do what you've done so many times here,'" Girardi said of his conversation with Sabathia prior to the ninth. "And he did."
Turning in his first complete game of the season, Sabathia retired the side in order in the ninth to seal New York's 6-4 sweep-clinching victory over the Tribe in front of 42,477 fans in the Bronx.
On any other day, the situation may have called for closer Mariano Rivera. Yet with Rivera, along with Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, each pitching in the first two games of the series, Girardi wanted to avoid using his key relievers at all costs. Thanks to Sabathia, he was able to do exactly that.
"These guys have bailed me out a lot this year," Sabathia said. "The strength of our team is our bullpen, so to be able to give these guys a rest and have them fresh going into the next series is good."
For a while on Wednesday, it seemed as if Sabathia was going to coast to a complete game -- if not something even more special. The southpaw breezed through the first four innings, not allowing a single baserunner while striking out five of the first 12 batters he faced.
In fact, Sabathia didn't even allow a ball to leave the infield until former teammate Nick Swisher flied out to center fielder Brett Gardner for the final out of the fourth frame. Sabathia went on to retire the first two hitters he faced in the fifth to remain perfect before Cleveland shortstop Mike Aviles flared a sinking liner that barely dropped in front of left fielder Vernon Wells for the Tribe's first baserunner of the day.
"He looked real good. He had no-hit stuff," said Gardner, who helped stake Sabathia to an early 6-0 lead with a three-run homer in the second inning. "He looked really good. The final line, he gave up four runs, but I thought he pitched great."
Those four runs came during the sixth and seventh innings, with Sabathia falling victim to some unfortunate bounces and one big swing from Indians catcher Yan Gomes. After the Tribe had pushed across a pair in the sixth on three singles and an RBI fielder's choice off the bat of Swisher, Gomes connected on a two-run shot in the seventh to pull Cleveland within two.
"I look at the first couple runs he gave up, they're just some well-placed balls," Girardi said. "And you give them some credit, they didn't hit him hard, but they didn't swing and miss and they put them in play and ended up with some hits. But he didn't give up a well-hit ball until the seventh inning -- and that's pretty good."
That would also be the last well-hit ball given up by Sabathia, who retired seven of the next eight hitters to close it out. In all, the left-hander allowed just the four runs on seven hits while striking out nine and walking one.
"He pitches in the zone extremely well," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He has enough stuff and command to throw strikes with all his pitches. He kind of gets you back and forth and in and out. He's very tough."
As for the Yankees' offense, they stormed out of the gates, putting up all six of their runs in the opening two frames against Cleveland starter Corey Kluber. Designated hitter Travis Hafner opened the scoring with a mammoth two-run homer into the second deck in right field in the first inning, his second in three days against his former club.
The Bronx Bombers kept the pedal down one inning later, tacking on another four runs on four more hits, capped by Gardner's decisive three-run shot. The Yanks managed just three hits the rest of the way, but Sabathia already had all the run support he needed to lead the Yankees to a series-ending victory before heading to Seattle on Thursday for the start of a 10-game West Coast swing.
"We were able to manufacture some runs, do some things on offense, hit a couple long balls, and CC pitched great," Gardner said. "It's just the way we would draw it up, and it makes the six-hour flight a lot more exciting than going out on a bad note. It was a good series for us."
The three-game sweep improved New York's record against the Indians this season to 6-1. More importantly, it helped erase a disastrous start to the homestand that saw the Yankees drop two games to the Mets -- part of a season-long five-game losing streak overall -- before losing two of three to the Red Sox.
Though not ideal, the Yanks managed to salvage a 4-4 split on the eight-game homestand and emerge with a 34-25 record overall as they embark on their longest road trip so far this season.
"I thought it was important. Cleveland's a good team," Girardi said. "They swing the bats extremely well, they have power arms in the bullpen, their starters have done a good job. ... To end up being 4-4 after being 1-4 going against a tough team is pretty good."