With one swing, Alex Rodriguez made everyone at Yankee Stadium forget just how out of sorts CC Sabathia had looked on the mound.
It not only gave the Yankees a little breathing room in their 10-4 win over the Royals last night at the Stadium but helped Sabathia collect his 13th victory of the season.
Rodriguez (four RBIs) and Mark Teixeira each had three of the Yankees' 14 hits. Nick Swisher and Derek Jeter, who had an inside-the-park home run, added two each. The Royals had 14 hits but left 14 runners on base and went 4-for-17 with runners in scoring position.
Swisher's two-run double, Teixeira's RBI single and Rodriguez's RBI double in the eighth allowed the Yankees to break open a 6-4 game.
Despite Sabathia's early ineffectiveness - seven hits allowed in the first two innings (11 total), four walks and three earned runs in 61/3 innings - he struck out nine and managed to keep the Yankees in the game and won his ninth straight decision. But he wasn't satisfied.
"The changeup was really bad," said Sabathia (13-3, 3.18), who hasn't lost since the Mets beat him May 23. "The fastball command, I thought, early was really good. I got ahead of some people, just wasn't able to put them away. It felt like they were hitting everything."
With two outs in the first and runners at first and third, Jose Guillen ripped an RBI double to leftfield. Former Yankee Wilson Betemit then singled to left to make it 2-0, but Brett Gardner threw out Betemit trying to stretch it into a double before Guillen could reach the plate, negating a third run.
The Yankees quickly tied it in the bottom of the inning as Jeter reached on an infield single, Teixeira doubled and Rodriguez produced two runs with a ground-rule double that bounced into the rightfield seats. But Scott Podsednik's RBI single in the second put the Royals ahead 3-2.
Jeter stole the show - and the momentum - in the third, cracking the first pitch from lefthander Bruce Chen (5-4) to deep centerfield. David DeJesus leaped and caught the ball in front of the Yankees' bullpen, but his glove hand slammed into the wall and the ball fell to the grass. That allowed Jeter to race around the bases, tying the score at 3.
DeJesus, who was diagnosed with a severe right thumb sprain, was replaced by Rick Ankiel, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list before the game.
It was the second inside-the-park home run for Jeter and the second for the Yankees this season (the first was by Gardner on July 4 against Toronto).
Gardner kept the score tied at 3-3 when he threw out Billy Butler at the plate to end the fifth. Although Jorge Posada blocked the plate, he never appeared to tag Butler, but he still got the out call from Eric Cooper.
An odd play by Posada handed the Royals a run in the sixth. Willie Bloomquist doubled with one out and reached third when Sabathia balked. Yuniesky Betancourt struck out on a pitch in the dirt, but instead of throwing to first to retire Betancourt for the second out, Posada tried to pick off Bloomquist at third and threw the ball away, allowing Bloomquist to score and Betancourt to reach second. But Sabathia struck out Podsednik and Ankiel to get out of the inning.
Rodriguez's 16th home run gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead. Joba Chamberlain labored in the eighth, loaded the bases on back-to-back infield singles and a walk, but he got Guillen to ground into an inning-ending forceout to preserve the lead.
The Yankees then broke it open in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and the Stadium crowd on its feet, Rodriguez had a chance to collect home run No. 600, but instead roped an RBI double to right-center off reliever Blake Wood to put the Yankees ahead 10-4.
"I'm having fun," said the third baseman, who has 24 RBIs in 17 games this month and 78 overall. "The thing I try to do all year is try to drive in big runs for this team. And hopefully when I hit it, like tonight, it's going to count for a win."
This was a win that was much closer than the score would indicate.
"I think they're dangerous offensively," Girardi said before the game of the Royals, who lead the majors in team batting average (.281). "Some guys in the middle of their lineup are really swinging the bats. I don't think they get a lot of attention. It seems like the other three clubs in the American League Central have gotten all the attention, but I think they're better than what people think."