So the looks in the dugout were of pained concern in the fifth inning on Saturday, as CC Sabathia took a line drive off his chest. Losing their ace at this point in the schedule is not an option, and only when the left-hander shrugged it off and went back to work could the Yankees truly exhale.
Sabathia may have bruised, but once again, he could not be beaten. Backed by plenty of support, including a two-homer showing by Mark Teixeira, Sabathia moved into a tie for the Major League lead with his 18th win as the Yankees posted a 10-1 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
"That's a scary moment, no matter who it is," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "To lose one of your starters could be devastating down the stretch here. We caught a break and we're fortunate. He's a strong man, he felt good and kept pitching."
With Hideki Matsui also going deep for the Yankees, the only bullet to dodge was the one off the bat of Franklin Gutierrez in the fifth inning that wound up striking Sabathia on the left side of his chest, a precious few inches from doing considerably more damage.
"I've been hit in that same spot before, a couple of years ago," said Sabathia, who was hiding a big red mark under his sweatshirt after the game. "I knew I was going to be able to continue to pitch."
Trainer Steve Donahue and Girardi sprinted out of the dugout to check on Sabathia, who met them and said, "It hit my chest." Girardi asked if Sabathia wanted to throw a few warmup pitches to make sure he could pitch, and Sabathia responded that it wasn't necessary. Sure enough, his next offering was clocked at 96 mph.
"We definitely were afraid of him coming out with some kind of an injury after that hit," Johnny Damon said. "He's a horse. That's why he gets paid the big bucks. He can go out there and compete, and a little ball hits off him and he's fine. He went out and gave us exactly what we needed."
Sabathia completed seven innings of work, holding the Mariners to an unearned run on four hits. His two-walk, eight-strikeout effort locks him in for the American League lead in victories, engaged in a tie with the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright for the most in the big leagues.
"I feel pretty good," Sabathia said. "I'm making pitches with two strikes, getting some strikeouts. The two-seamer has been good, getting me ground balls. I'm just trying to keep it going."
New York pounded Seattle rookie Doug Fister for six runs on nine hits in four-plus innings, sending him to the shortest outing of his young career. With Teixeira leading the charge to support Sabathia, the combined $341 million investment to the two players this winter is paying dividends.
"We're extremely pleased with what these guys have done this year," Girardi said. "They've basically had the years that we knew that they were capable of having. CC has a chance to win 20, Tex has a chance to be the MVP and drive in 125 or 130 runs. These guys have done everything that we could have expected."
"I didn't think that we would be doing what we're doing now," Sabathia said. "Tex is probably going to win the MVP and I'm pitching pretty well. That's what we came here to do. It's fun to be in this position that we're in and a little shocking."
Matsui connected in the fourth inning for his 26th home run, surpassing Don Baylor's 1984 club record for designated hitters, and Teixeira cracked a three-run shot to right field off Fister in the fifth.
"It's unbelievable," Sabathia said. "These guys have been swinging the bats every time I go out there. Matsui has been raking. It seems like every time I'm on the mound, he hits a home run. These guys have been giving me great support."
Legging out his third triple in five games after not having posted one since 2007, Teixeira made a nifty catch in foul ground to end the fifth inning before singling in the seventh, placing him just a double shy of what would have been his second career cycle.
But Teixeira said that it is difficult to try to hit doubles or triples, and he proved it, launching his 37th home run off Luke French in the ninth inning. In the dugout, at least one teammate -- Damon identified him as Alex Rodriguez -- tried to verbally order the ball to hit the fence.
"I hit that really well," Teixeira said. "As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going to be a home run. You can't try to hit a double. You can try to hit a home run, you can try to hit a single and dunk one in there, but it's really hard to try to hit a double. I just wanted to put a good swing on it."
Damon, Francisco Cervelli and Melky Cabrera added RBI singles for the Yankees, who are undefeated in Sabathia's past 10 starts. The run has allowed Sabathia to consider the possibility of a 20-win Yankees debut, and even though he says he isn't thinking about it, it's undeniable that it'd be a great way to finish the regular season off.
"It'd be great, but I'm just trying to focus on staying healthy and staying sharp," Sabathia said. "I've been throwing the ball pretty good, but these guys have been scoring runs all year for me. I've been fortunate."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.