DETROIT -- No sixth game of the 162-game MLB season can be accurately described as an all-or-nothing affair.
"That was a must-win today," said Rivera, honored on the field before the game in a ceremony presided over by Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "We needed the win today."
Behind seven standout innings from CC Sabathia, who outpitched Tigers ace Justin Verlander, the Yankees (2-4) avoided a three-game sweep. They start a four-game series in Cleveland Monday afternoon.
"It's the first week in April, so it's hard to say it's a must-win game," said Sabathia, who quickly shoved the disappointment of his Opening Day performance against the Red Sox into the background. "But it feels good to win."
The Yankees received production from unexpected sources such as Jayson Nix and Francisco Cervelli and had a season-best 13 hits and a season high in runs.
"The only must-win you ever need is when you can be eliminated," Joe Girardi said. "But wins are important, there's no doubt about it. Wins in April are extremely important. Feels good to win a game and hopefully, we can carry it over to tomorrow."
Nix had two hits off Verlander -- and three overall -- including a two-run homer in the second that gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Cervelli had two hits and two RBIs, including a run-scoring double that preceded Nix's blast. Kevin Youkilis, who is hitting .409, and Travis Hafner (.350) also had two hits each.
Phil Coke allowed two runs in the eighth, one on Ichiro Suzuki's sacrifice fly and the other on Cervelli's RBI single, to make it 5-0. Youkilis added a two-run single in the ninth against Octavio Dotel.
Nix entered the game 1-for-11 with five strikeouts in his career against Verlander, and with the count 2-and-1, he wasn't sure what he'd see. He got an 85-mph changeup and ripped it several rows deep in the leftfield seats.
"He doesn't really get into patterns," Nix said. "He has four good pitches he can throw for a strike at any time. I really wasn't thinking about him too much. I was just trying to execute my approach and do what I wanted to do."
Girardi said Nix's afternoon was exactly what the Yankees need from players who are filling in for the injured. It was Nix's second straight start for injured shortstop Eduardo Nuñez -- already filling in for the injured Derek Jeter -- and he's likely to get a third start there Monday.
"We've talked about it. Everyone needs to pitch in around here," Girardi said. "That's what he's doing."
Cervelli, after a solid spring training, is hitting .308 with a .438 on-base percentage and five RBIs in his five games. Girardi has said defense is his No. 1 priority for whoever starts at catcher, and Cervelli has been mostly good behind the plate -- but he also has done well while standing next to it. "I focus 100 percent on my defense,'' he said, "but when I have to hit, I focus on my offense."
Cervelli praised Sabathia's day, only the second strong outing by a Yankees starter in six games. "We need days like that," he said. "I believe this next week, everything's going to change."
The feeling in the clubhouse was that Sunday might have been the start of not only better pitching but better play overall.
"Every day is a big game and an important game," Nix said. "Facing Verlander with C on the mound, those are games we want to win. We don't get too caught up in it, but we do want to win and get on a good streak and get a good thing going, so it was important to do that today."