BALTIMORE -- After CC Sabathia lost in Anaheim just before the All-Star break to fall to 8-6, he was asked if he thought he had the kind of second half in him that he did a season ago.
"I don't know," Sabathia said with a smile, recalling his lights-out 2008 second half in Milwaukee when he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts. 'I feel good, I'm throwing the ball well, so we'll just have to see what happens."
As much as duplicating those numbers seemed a long shot, Sabathia is making a run at it. Sabathia went 5-0 in August and his first September start showed a pitcher getting stronger.
Sabathia, after allowing a first-inning run, shut out the Orioles over the next six innings to help the Yankees, who erupted for seven runs in the ninth, complete a three-game sweep with a 10-2 victory at Camden Yards.
“We’ll probably give him a few days off and see if we can nip it in the rear end,” Girardi said.
Rivera, who has converted 34 straight save chances, said he experienced something similar Aug. 15 when he pitched in Seattle and it went away after a couple days off. If this was October, Rivera said, he would pitch through it.
But with the Yankees increasing their lead to 7 1/2 games over the Red Sox, who lost, 8-5 in Tampa, no one sees a reason to force the issue.
“I don’t want to push it and make it worse,” Rivera said. “We have time.”
Girardi said Phil Hughes could close over the next few days, though he said he may “mix and match.”
Sabathia (16-7), meanwhile, became the American League's first 16-game winner and tied the Cardinals Adam Wainwright for most victories in the majors by going seven innings and allowing one run and seven hits. He struck out nine to match his second-highest total of the year and walked just one.
Brian Bruney gave up a solo home run to Nolan Reimold in the eighth to make it 3-2 but Phil Coke and Hughes were able to hold the one-run lead.
Alex Rodriguez had three hits and four RBIs, contributing a two-run single in the seventh that broke a tie at 1. He hit another two-run single in the seven-run ninth, in which the Yankees batted around, making it 10-2.
The Yankees tied it at 1 in the third as Eric Hinske led off with a home run to right-center, his seventh since joining the Yankees June 30.
Sabathia continued to cruise, setting down the Orioles in order in the sixth, ending the inning by blowing a 96-mph fastball past Luke Scott. Sabathia has 53 strikeouts in his last six starts.
“When you’re ahead in the count, it’s easier to put guys away,” Sabathia said.
And though he hasn’t been quite as good as he was in last year’s second half, Sabathia has won his last six decisions and eight of his last nine and with his win total has entered, though maybe the periphery, the Cy Young discussion.
Notes & quotes: Chad Gaudin starts in place of Sergio Mitre Thursday in Toronto, but Mitre's right forearm has improved and he will start Sunday, giving A.J. Burnett an extra day's rest. Burnett and CC Sabathia will start Monday's doubleheader against the Rays, though Girardi said he had not yet determined the order. The Yankees announced the gates will open Monday at 10 a.m. for the 1:05 p.m. game and at 5 for the 7:05 contest . . . Brett Gardner took batting practice a second straight day and will leave Thursday for a rehab stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Girardi said Gardner will be evaluated again after the weekend, meaning he could rejoin the Yankees as soon as Monday if there are no setbacks . . . Ian Kennedy threw batting practice Wednesday for the first time since having surgery in May to remove an aneurysm from his right arm. Kennedy, 24, threw 30 pitches, according to The Associated Press, and is scheduled to throw BP again Saturday. He could pitch in a simulated game Tuesday.