CC sharp as Yankees take series from Tigers

CC sharp as Yankees take series from Tigers

NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia knew exactly what the Yankees needed from him on Sunday afternoon, and they couldn't have asked for more as the ace turned in his sharpest outing of the young season.

Sabathia pitched eight innings of two-run ball to bail out a taxed bullpen, supported in part by home runs from Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones, as the Yankees defeated the Tigers, 6-2.

"You always feel confident that you can go out and hold a team down," said Sabathia, who won his third consecutive start. "I felt pretty good today. I moved the ball around and made some pitches."

Alex Rodriguez drove in two runs, giving him 1,904 for his Major League career as he moved past Willie Mays for sole possession of ninth place on the all-time list, according to MLB.com.

But the star of the afternoon was Sabathia, who walked two and struck out eight as he helped the Yankees secure a series victory for the fifth time in their last six attempts.

"That's why we call him an ace," Jones said. "Every time he goes out there, you can count on eight innings. It's good to have a guy like that on your team."

Rodriguez's RBIs came on a second-inning infield single and a seventh-inning fielder's choice, and that was the way it went for the Yankees, who scraped together just enough to win after leaving an eye-popping 14 men on base through six innings.

Granderson wondered if those missed opportunities might come back to haunt the Yankees late in the game, but Tigers starter Max Scherzer was knocked out in the fifth and New York created breathing room with two runs in the seventh off rookie Luke Putkonen, making his big league debut.

The first two runs off Scherzer were soft, coming in the second inning after Derek Jeter's infield single to load the bases -- just after Scherzer almost rung him up on a called third strike. The Yankees took advantage of the break as Granderson worked a walk to pick up his 500th career RBI. "Whenever you walk seven guys, it's hard to blame something other than yourself," Scherzer said. "But ... I'm on the mound thinking [the third strike was] right there [on Jeter], trying to go into the dugout and get ready for the third."

A-Rod then rolled a run-scoring tapper down the third-base line that Miguel Cabrera couldn't pick up barehanded, which was scored an infield hit.

Granderson provided more wiggle room in the fourth, smashing a deep drive toward the Yankees' bullpen that center fielder Austin Jackson nearly brought back with a spectacular effort.

"When I heard the crowd make the noise that they did, I knew something good happened -- I just didn't know on which side," said Granderson, who has eight homers. "Then the umpire told me it went over the fence."

Robinson Cano added a fifth Yankees run with a sacrifice fly, and by the time Jones cleared the left-field fence with an eighth-inning homer, his third, Sabathia was off and cruising to victory.

"I feel good that our offense is going to give us a chance, if we can just keep it close," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And those guys have done that. Even through their struggles, they've done that."

Prince Fielder crushed a long solo home run into the second deck in right field off Sabathia in the fourth and Miguel Cabrera raked a run-scoring double in the sixth, but otherwise Sabathia was in command. The left-hander walked two and struck out eight.

"You feel pretty good going into that day that he's going to put a good game out there," Girardi said. "We've seen him get increasingly better every time he's gone out, and that's encouraging to us."

It was useful because just one reliever -- Dave Robertson, who pitched a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation -- was needed, a day after the bullpen was forced to patch together 7 1/3 innings of relief behind Freddy Garcia.

"I'm always trying to give the team length, no matter what the situation is," Sabathia said. "Our bullpen has been called on a lot so it just feels good to be able to go out and give those guys a rest."

Sabathia noted that for the second straight start, he has not shaken off a single pitch from backup catcher Chris Stewart, and said that he hopes to continue working with the top-rated defensive backstop for the foreseeable future.

"We've been on the same page. He's been locked in," Sabathia said. "We've been talking in-between starts, before the game. He catches my bullpens. He knows what I have and what I can throw for strikes. It has seemed to work."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.