In winning for the 19th time this season, Sabathia turned in perhaps his finest effort of the season and, maybe, as a Yankee. The left-hander often unwittingly renders his dominance less impressive, due to both its ease and its frequency. He is very often very good, and he can generally slice through an opposing order without much resistance.
That said, Thursday still stands out as a superlative performance. The one hit he allowed came in the second inning on a Mark Ellis ground ball that found its way through the infield's right side. The two threats he extinguished came by virtue of a Jorge Posada two-base error in the third and a hit batsman and a walk to lead off the eighth. He pitched out of trouble each time, without a ball hit particularly hard against him in either inning.
"That's as good as it gets," manager Joe Girardi said.
"He had no-hit stuff today. He really did," added Posada, who opened the scoring with a second-inning solo homer to left. "It's the perfect example of what we can do when he's on."
In fact, it's hard to think of a single ball the Athletics struck with much force against Sabathia. Of the 29 men he faced, only four were able to reach the outfield against him. Ellis singled while three other Athletics flied out. From the third inning through the first out of the eighth, 19 straight A's were unable to get the ball past the infield dirt. In all, Sabathia registered 13 ground-ball outs, five strikeouts, three flyouts and three popups.
"We didn't hit a lot of balls hard against him at all," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "He used everything and was aggressive down in the strike zone."
Sabathia shrugged off the idea that getting weak ground ball after weak popup after strikeout isn't as simple as it often looks.
"It's not [easy] at all. This is the big leagues," Sabathia said. "You know situations, you try to pitch to situations. It's been working for me."
Sabathia credited his performance to his secondary pitches, namely his developing changeup and a sharp slider. Armed with a more consistent changeup than in his last outing in Chicago, Sabathia was able to use it in the rare instances when he fell behind in the count. His slider, with its sharp break toward the back leg of a right-handed hitter, finished off four of his five punchouts.
"I was just trying to be aggressive in the strike zone," Sabathia said, adding that he was undeterred by the sweltering temperatures that forced Dallas Braden to exit the game early with cramps. "It was scorching out there today, but I felt good. It kept the arm loose."
The only thing the heat prevented Sabathia from doing was completing the one-hitter, with Girardi opting instead to lift his ace after 95 pitches through eight innings. Although Sabathia, for his part, wanted to finish his third complete game of the season, he understood the perspective of his manager.
"It was a hot day, and CC's someone we need to take care of a little bit," Girardi said with a smile.
Over the last three-plus months now, Sabathia has become more or less the only sure thing for the Yankees. Amid injuries and a shuffling rotation, he has soldiered on, posting quality start after quality start, interspersing an occasional gem such as Thursday's. His 19 wins lead the Major Leagues and tie a career high. He is 16-0 in his last 21 regular-season starts at Yankee Stadium. His ERA since the beginning of June is 2.40.
"He's our No. 1," said Posada. "We follow him."
"He's been the one constant every time he's gone out," Girardi said. "That's what aces do."
Sabathia spent much of the game pitching with only a slim margin for error, at least until Braden departed in the bottom of the sixth having allowed only the Posada homer. Curtis Granderson -- in the lineup only because Nick Swisher exited after one inning with stiffness in his left knee -- greeted reliever Jerry Blevins with a solo homer to right to double the Yankees' lead to 2-0.
Granderson doubled the lead the next inning, this time with a two-out, two-run shot off of Michael Wuertz. He has hit seven of his 17 home runs in the last 19 games, or roughly since hitting coach Kevin Long tinkered with Granderson's swing.
"I'm comfortable with what we've been working on and being able to transfer what we do onto the field," said Granderson, who is keeping his top hand on the bat more often now. "It's starting to become second nature."
Thursday's victory extended the Yankees' win streak to six games and their division lead to 1 1/2 over idle Tampa Bay.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less