"We don't want to take anything for granted," said Cano, who notched his 27th homer and 100th RBI of the season with the shot off Baltimore's Tommy Hunter. "We just want to go game by game and give it all we've got."
Lyle Overbay also collected a run-scoring infield single that proved to be the deciding run in the contest when Mariano Rivera allowed a run in the home half of the ninth, recovering to log his 43rd save.
Combined with the Rays' loss to the Red Sox, the Yankees moved just one game back of Tampa Bay for the second American League Wild Card, surging past the O's and Indians in the chase. New York also sits 3 1/2 games back of the slumping Rangers for the first Wild Card.
"I've said it all along, this group fights," said Joe Girardi, who logged his 557th win as Yankees manager, surpassing Billy Martin for sole possession of sixth place on the club's all-time list. "They're continuing to fight."
Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez also homered for the Yankees, supporting a gritty effort by veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte, who scattered three runs and nine hits over a season-high 109 pitches. David Robertson was credited with the victory after pitching around two singles in a scoreless eighth.
Cano was in the headlines for a different reason this week, as Yankees president Randy Levine told Bloomberg Television that while the club hopes to retain the All-Star and free-agent-to-be, he is not considered "a re-sign at any cost" type of player.
Perhaps that can be said for most anyone, but many would agree that Cano continues to make a strong case for commanding a long-term investment. He reached the 100-RBI plateau for the third time in his career, becoming the ninth second baseman in history to do so.
"It's not only about home runs and RBIs, but things like when you win the game with a home run," Cano said. "We're on top of the game right now, and it definitely meant a lot to win this game."
Cano's first-inning RBI groundout against Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman gave New York an early lead, but Baltimore notched three straight two-out hits against Pettitte in the third.
Chris Davis cashed two runs with double down the right-field line, giving the Orioles the lead. Baltimore extended its lead to 3-1 on J.J. Hardy's fourth-inning RBI double.
Pettitte explained that his two-seam fastball had abandoned him -- the only part of his arsenal that was faulty facing the Birds on a muggy evening in the Inner Harbor.
"Obviously we've seen them a lot," Pettitte said. "They know what I'm trying to do to them. You've got to be sharp. I was thankful I was able to give us a decent outing tonight."
The Yankees answered as Granderson logged the first hit off Feldman, a solo shot opening the fifth. The homer landed on Eutaw Street beyond the right-field wall and was estimated at 422 feet, marking the second time in Granderson's career he has reached that area.
"Grandy is one of those guys that's a game-changer with his bat," Girardi said. "He can do that."
Serving as the designated hitter to protect a tight left hamstring, Rodriguez tied the game with a solo shot leading off the sixth.
The blast to right-center field was his sixth of the season and career blast No. 653, moving Rodriguez within seven homers of equaling Hall of Famer Willie Mays (660).
"He's driving the ball both ways; he's driving it to right and he's driving it to left," Girardi said. "That's encouraging, because when Alex is going good, that's who he is."
Feldman impressed Orioles manager Buck Showalter by holding the Yanks to three runs on just three hits in 7 2/3 innings.
"That bodes well for some things that he can do for us the rest of the way," Showalter said.
But Pettitte scored solid relief work from Shawn Kelley, Robertson and Rivera, buoying hopes that the Yankees can complete what would be a magical sprint against the probabilities to October.
"It's just battle; figure out a way," Pettitte said. "We've been doing it all year. We're going to continue to do it. We're going to continue to push through this and no matter how you lose a game here or there, it's not over until we're eliminated, as far as I'm concerned."