Posting his eighth victory in 11 decisions, Sabathia settled in after two shaky frames where he felt a little too strong. He pitched out of trouble most of the afternoon, inducing a pair of inning-ending double plays and executing a balancing act to escape the sixth.
"He's capable of getting some big strikeouts when he needs it, regardless of how he's been throwing the ball," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "He's a power pitcher who can throw it past guys. Today he got in trouble a couple of times and he was able to get those big outs when he needed it."
But the Yankees were similarly handcuffed by the All-Star Verlander, who held New York to just three hits until Rodriguez put enough of a swing on a fastball to clear the right-field wall, breaking the scoreless tie with a shot into first few rows of the right-field seats.
"After Carlos Gomez took one away from me last week, I don't think any ball is gone until it's gone," said Rodriguez, who lost a grand slam to the Twins outfielder on July 7. "[Verlander's] throwing 98 [mph]. I think he supplied a lot of the power."
Verlander was left grinning at what went for Rodriguez's 18th homer of the season and the 571st of his career, later calling it "frustrating" that the ball left the park so narrowly.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Sabathia both said they thought the ball would go farther. As for Rodriguez, he seemed happy to just catch up to something out of Verlander's right hand.
"That's as good as we've seen him," Rodriguez said. "He was throwing every pitch for strikes, and he's added a slider to his repertoire. The game had a feeling that one mistake, one pitch, one swing, it was going to be the difference."
Nick Swisher's sharp baserunning helped add a tack-on run later in the inning. With two outs and two on, Melky Cabrera smacked a ground ball that Swisher danced through between second and third base.
The move may have stalled shortstop Adam Everett for a fraction of a second, allowing Cabrera to leg out an infield single that sent Robinson Cano home from third base.
"Everett's a guy who's leading the entire universe in fielding percentage, so any time you can cause any distraction, you can," Swisher said. "I don't even think it really messed him up that much. I think the only thing it did was maybe to catch the ball a little bit deeper."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that he did not believe Swisher's play influenced the hit, but from the Yankees' dugout, Girardi voiced his approval.
"It's very smart baseball, if you can distract them without interfering," Girardi said. "Swish has very high baseball intelligence. He knows how to play this game."
That run proved important, as reliever Alfredo Aceves served up a solo home run to Marcus Thames in the top of the eighth, cutting New York's lead to one run.
Mariano Rivera retired the side in the ninth inning for his 25th save in 26 opportunities, allowing Sabathia to come out on top of the tough-luck loser Verlander as the Yankees won for the 15th time in 20 games.
"I don't ever think about him having to beat another team's ace or to step up," Girardi said. "I believe that CC gives us a really good chance of winning every time he takes the mound. The importance of it is keeping the momentum going."
The victory was Sabathia's team-high ninth of the season and his first in a day game, helping him improve to 8-3 with a 3.18 ERA over his past 14 starts. He limited the Tigers to five hits and three walks over seven scoreless innings, striking out four in a 114-pitch (66 for strikes) outing.
"It's getting to be into the summer months, so I've been feeling good the last couple of starts," Sabathia said.
But it didn't come easily early, as Sabathia didn't catch his groove coming off the All-Star break and ran a high pitch count through two innings before finally settling down and getting his mechanics in check.
"We made him work really well," Tigers catcher Gerald Laird said. "He threw a lot of pitches early. We had him on the ropes; we just couldn't get the big hit. Against a guy like that, you've got to get to him early."
Detroit left four men on in those frames and seven overall, as Sabathia induced double plays to end the third and fourth innings and twice pinned runners at second and third.
"I had a couple of long innings, and the guys were standing out there getting antsy," Sabathia said. "You feel bad for them when your team is on defense and you throw a lot of pitches and you're walking guys. I just wanted to keep making pitches and get out of those jams."