Joe Girardi, not for the first time this season, essentially was asked why he remains committed to CC Sabathia.
"This is a guy that's been through this time of the year," Girardi said Thursday afternoon. "He has always been a guy willing to take the ball under any circumstance, and his attitude is something that we need."
Attitude is fine, but zeros on the scoreboard, of course, count most of all. And Sabathia brought plenty of both Thursday night.
Although he got a no-decision, the pumped-up lefthander -- who several times exchanged heated words with plate umpire Rob Drake -- produced perhaps his best outing of the season in the Yankees' 2-1 victory over the Red Sox in front of a sellout crowd of 48,608 at the Stadium.
"Obviously, I was a little fired up," said Sabathia, whose fastball velocity was a tick or two higher than usual, sitting in the range of 91 to 93 mph and occasionally touching 94. "That passion I think has been missing."
There should be plenty of that this weekend when the AL East-leading Yankees (61-46), who have won 17 of 24 overall, face the scorching Blue Jays, who trail by 4½ games and start a three-game set Friday night at the Stadium.
"It's a big series," Girardi said. "They're playing well, we have played well, and it should be interesting."
Jacoby Ellsbury broke a 1-1 tie with a seventh-inning homer off Eduardo Rodriguez into the second deck in rightfield, but Sabathia -- who entered the game 4-8 with a 5.54 ERA -- was the story. He allowed one run and a season-low three hits in six innings, walked three and struck out eight.
"He was in command of all of his pitches," said Brett Gardner, who singled with two outs in the third and scored on Alex Rodriguez's double to make it 1-0.
Four of Sabathia's six innings were clean, but the one in the fourth was eventful because of some tension between Sabathia and Drake.
Sabathia got David Ortiz to pop out and thought he had the next batter, Hanley Ramirez, struck out on a borderline 2-and-2 pitch that Drake called a ball. Ramirez grounded out and Sabathia, as he strolled off the mound, seemed to jaw a bit with Drake, who came out to the mound to tell Sabathia to quiet down.
But Sabathia said he wasn't talking to Drake. "That had nothing to do with him," he said. "I didn't complain about one pitch all night. For him to come out and tell me not to walk around the mound [ticked] me off."
After Mike Napoli grounded out to end the inning, as Sabathia walked toward the Yankees' dugout, Drake walked halfway up the first-base line to intercept him. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild quickly charged in to get Sabathia -- ejected earlier in the season by Dan Bellino during a similar walk from the mound -- back to the dugout.
"He was trying to tell me to calm down," Sabathia said. "But I don't think he needs to tell me anything. Don't talk to me if I'm not talking to you. And I think that's a lot of umpires' problems is they interpret your body language. That's not his job. His job is to call balls and strikes. Don't say anything to me if I don't say anything to you."
Sabathia showed similar emotion when he struck out David Ortiz -- a .365 career hitter in bases-loaded situations -- with a run already home and three men on base in the fifth.
Pablo Sandoval struck out to begin the inning and Ryan Hanigan singled, Boston's second hit of the game. Sabathia struck out Josh Rutledge but walked No. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. (who entered the game hitting .102). Rusney Castillo then sent an 0-and-1 sinker back up the middle for an RBI single that tied it at 1-1.
Sabathia walked Xander Bogaerts on four pitches to load the bases, bringing up Ortiz. Sabathia fell behind him 1-and-0 before throwing three straight strikes -- two well-located, big-breaking sliders and a 94-mph fastball that Ortiz swung through. Sabathia pumped his arms in celebration and screamed an expletive as the crowd roared, another rare display of on-field emotion from the pitcher.
Justin Wilson (4-0) and Dellin Betances each pitched a scoreless inning to set up Andrew Miller, who allowed a two-out pinch-hit single by Travis Shaw in the ninth and walked Bradley on four pitches. But Miller struck out Castillo on three pitches to move to 24-for-24 in save chances this season.