While the Bombers' offense was paced by Cabrera's four-RBI day, logging New York's first cycle since Tony Fernandez in 1995, Sabathia straightened out his mechanical flaws and outpitched Mark Buehrle in a much-hyped duel that never materialized.
Needing a win to avoid what might have been a deflating four-game series sweep at U.S. Cellular Field, the Yankees stepped up to the challenge of facing Buehrle, making his first start at home since throwing a perfect game on July 23 against the Rays.
Facing the Yankees, a team he has historically struggled against, Buehrle was far from flawless. The southpaw was battered for seven runs and 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings as his struggles with New York continued. Sunday's defeat lowered his record to 1-6 with a 6.84 ERA in nine career starts against them.
"It's not like everyone is running to the bat rack to go face [Buehrle]," Derek Jeter said. "He knows what he's doing when he's pitching. He comes after you; he's not going to walk you. He's one of the best pitchers in our league, so I think it's probably just coincidence."
The Yankees took a 3-0 lead when Cabrera started his march with history in the second inning, depositing a three-run homer into the left-field bullpen.
"I wouldn't say he's one of those guys that sticks out like one of those guys that own me," said Buehrle, who gave up three of Cabrera's four hits. "I know Derek Jeter has gotten me pretty good, but other than that on that team, nobody really sticks out that's gotten me that much."
In any event, that cushion was short-lived, as Sabathia gave it all back in a four-run Chicago third inning.
Gordon Beckham connected for an RBI single, and Sabathia served up back-to-back home runs to Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome. That was when he delivered his impassioned ultimatum to Molina, and the catcher bought it.
"There's not much to say," Molina said. "When a guy that knows what he's doing on the mound tells you, 'That's it,' you know what it means. It's easy to figure out that he wasn't happy about the four runs in the third.
"To me, it was just that he really wants to win. I think he always wants to win, but after he gave up the lead in this inning, he was saying that the guys just gave him three runs to work with and he blew it. If they score a couple more, he said he was going to shut this team down."
Sabathia had beaten himself up after his last start at Tampa Bay, saying that he didn't feel as though he'd thrown a first-pitch strike "in three weeks."
Yet Sabathia didn't panic on Sunday, because his side work with pitching coach Dave Eiland gave him the confidence to rebound and log his third victory in four starts.
"In previous games, I would have probably been a little more frustrated than I was today," Sabathia said. "I felt like if I could keep getting ahead and making pitches, I'd be fine. That's what it's about, making pitches when it counts."
Evading a leadoff Chris Getz triple unscathed in the seventh, Sabathia pitched into the eighth inning, allowing five runs on 10 hits while walking none and striking out five in a 100-pitch outing. The line looked ugly in the box score, but didn't show the shut-down mentality.
"That's what he's able to do, and that's the kind of pitcher we have," Girardi said. "That's really big. You get a leadoff triple and you don't score, that's momentum for us. CC did what he needed to do for us to win."
"How many guys take you to the eighth inning with five runs? Not many," Molina said. "That tells you that he got hit early and made just a couple of mistakes. You take that inning away, and we'd win, 8-1."
After Cabrera's 10th homer of the year, he added a RBI single in the fifth that chased Buehrle. Molina's fourth-inning single tied the game, and Johnny Damon gave the Yankees the lead with a run-scoring hit later in the inning.
Jerry Hairston Jr. also had an RBI single, and Jeter drove in Cabrera after his cycle-clinching triple in the ninth inning. Phil Hughes recorded two outs and Mariano Rivera got four to log his 30th save, as the Yankees improved to 3-4 on their current three-city, nine-game road trip.
"You never want to get swept," Sabathia said. "That's a good team over there, and we've got an off-day tomorrow. You just want to come out and do whatever you can to just win one."