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Look who’s slowly climbed their way back into it in the AL East — led in large part by a former ace pitching very much like one again.
Behind another stellar effort by CC Sabathia, the Yankees won their fifth straight game Friday night, beating the Tigers, 4-0, at the Stadium.
The Yankees (31-30) inched their way over .500 for the first time since April 13, when they were 4-3, with their 22nd victory in the last 35 games.
The 35-year-old Sabathia (4-4) continued a resurgence that started last September, lowering his season ERA to 2.28 by throwing seven shutout innings. In his last six starts, he has a 0.71 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP in 38 innings.
“Another brilliant outing,” Joe Girardi said.
Before the game, Girardi said the lightweight brace Sabathia started using on his troublesome right knee last September has keyed the lefthander’s turnaround. Sabathia agreed, saying it gives him “peace of mind.”
“Knowing that I’m not going to hurt myself, it’s not going to be painful when I’m landing,” said Sabathia, who has cited his cutter — which Andy Pettitte helped him refine in spring training in 2015 — as the pitch that he’s been most pleased with in the stretch. “Everything’s coming together nice and it’s just time for me to keep it going.”
The Tigers (30-30) had their share of chances against Sabathia, who allowed five hits and two walks, but ultimately came away frustrated. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded six against Sabathia, who struck out four.
Girardi in some ways was most impressed with Sabathia making it through seven innings. Battling some early command issues, he was at 45 pitches after two innings.
“At that point, you’re starting to think if I get five out of him, I’ll be pleased,” Girardi said.
Former Met Mike Pelfrey, who came in with poor career numbers against the Yankees (2-4 with a 4.74 ERA), actually did well to make it through 6 2⁄3 innings. The righthander, touched for six hits, allowed three runs in the first and just one after that.
Brett Gardner improved to 8-for-19 against Pelfrey with a one-out single in the first and Carlos Beltran, with a slash line of .351/.392/.770, eight homers and 24 RBIs in his last 20 games entering the night, followed with a single to left.
Alex Rodriguez drew a walk to load the bases for Brian McCann, who walked on four pitches to make it 1-0. After Starlin Castro struck out, Didi Gregorius lashed a two-run double over the head of Justin Upton’s head in left. McCann was thrown out at the plate on the play, ending the 26-pitch inning.
The Yankees made it 4-0 in the third on Beltran’s RBI single. It gave him 11 RBIs in his last five games and 25 in his last 21.
“He’s carried us,” Sabathia said. “The way he’s hitting the ball right now is unbelievable.”
The Yankees loaded the bases with none out in the fourth, getting back-to-back singles by Castro and Gregorius and a walk to Headley, but new full-time first baseman Rob Refsnyder grounded into a 1-2-3 double play and Ellsbury grounded to short.
The Tigers put runners on first and third with one out in the fifth, but Sabathia got Miguel Cabrera (0-for-4) to ground into a 6-4-3 double play on an 84-mph sinker, typical of the right-pitch-at-the-right-time element that has been so much a part of this stretch for him.
Indeed, Sabathia’s transition — mostly rocky during the previous three seasons — from power pitcher to finesse pitcher seems to be complete.
“It’s extremely difficult,” McCann said, speaking in general of that transition. “But it goes back to mental makeup, and his is off the charts. It was just a matter of time. You knew it was going to click.”