The lefthander's performance in Friday night's 2-1 victory over the A's at the Stadium, which was won on Russell Martin's leadoff homer in the 10th, produced sighs of relief, not the least of which came from Sabathia.
"I always feel like I need an outing like this, especially with the race being as tight as it is,'' said Sabathia, who pitched eight shutout innings. "Being able to get tonight feels good.''
Said Girardi: "I think it was important for him. It's important for us. Tonight might have been maybe the best game he's pitched all year.''
The victory, the sixth in a row by the Yankees (87-63), and 11th in their last 15, kept them one game ahead of the Orioles, who won, 4-2, in Boston.
"He's our ace, he's our horse so you want him feeling good about himself,'' Martin said of Sabathia. "I think he definitely needed a start like this.''
Sabathia, who allowed three hits, was denied his 14th victory when Rafael Soriano blew just his fourth save of the season, serving a solo homer to pinch hitter Brandon Moss with one out in the ninth that allowed the A's (85-65) to tie it at 1. Soriano had been 42-for-45 in save chances.
Girardi speculated the closer might be going through a "dead arm'' period, a result of saving both ends of Wednesday's doubleheader against the Blue Jays, and Soriano didn't disagree. But he also said, "no excuse,'' and felt bad he couldn't come through for Sabathia.
"I feel bad because CC threw a great game,'' Soriano said. "I feel sorry for him because of the thing that happened today.''
Martin pushed Soriano's blown save to a sidebar story, leading off the 10th by driving lefthander Sean Doolittle's 0-and-1 pitch over the wall in left for his 18th homer and second walk-off blast (the first came June 10 against the Mets). David Robertson (2-7) pitched a 1-2-3 10th to earn the victory.
"Kevin told me he was a little bit sneaky,'' Martin said of hitting coach Kevin Long. "He told me to just get the head out and I listened to him. I got a fastball, belt high, and I just put a good swing on it. I was happy to get a win. We needed that.''
Given the tight AL East race, Girardi called Martin's homer "probably'' the biggest hit of the season.
"With games to go, we're fighting to win the division,'' Girardi said. "That's just a huge hit.''
Sabathia, who took a no-hitter into the sixth before No. 8 hitter Stephen Drew collected the first of his two hits off the lefthander, struck out 11, with just about everything in his repertoire working.
"Breaking ball was good, changeup was good,'' said Sabathia, who was winless in his previous four starts and had surrendered leads in his previous five. "It [the slider] was better.''
The pitcher also appeared to answer the questions about his velocity, which had been noticeably down his last couple of starts. In those outings, Sabathia's fastball sat mostly in the 91-93 range; Friday night it was 92-94. His final pitch of the sixth, a called third strike to Jonny Gomes, came in at 96 mph.
"That's a good sign to me,'' Girardi said. "That's what we're used to seeing from him.''
The Yankees got just one run -- a fourth-inning sacrifice fly from Curtis Granderson -- off A's rookie Jarrod Parker.
"It was a well-played game,'' A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We played great, and so did they.''
Notes and quotes:Derek Jeter's single in the sixth extended his hitting streak to 15 games. After playing the field back-to-back games, Jeter, who has been nursing a bone bruise in his left ankle for a couple of weeks, was back at DH. "It's something we're going to manage,'' Girardi said. "It's not 100 percent.''
OF Brett Gardner (right elbow strain) still hasn't been activated but Girardi said it isn't because of any setbacks. "We're just not quite ready to make the move yet,'' he said.