The Yankees left Target Field on Wednesday with two victories in three games -- and liking their chances to win the AL East a little more after watching CC Sabathia's signature performance against the Twins.
The Twins blew a chance to win a season series against New York for the first time since 2001 as they lost 8-2.
Truthfully, Sabathia gave them no chance.
The veteran lefthander put it on the Twins for eight innings, limiting them to two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out 10 -- including Joe Mauer three times. Three. That's just the second time all season that has happened. The third strikeout came on three pitches.
Sabathia, in fact, had Mauer in a box so badly that the American League's second-leading hitter swung at Sabathia's first pitch to him in the eighth inning. And Mauer rarely swings at the first pitch. And Mauer likely won't try it again for a while since he grounded out.
"That's the best I've seen him, and I've been watching him for a long time," Mauer said. "He was using both sides of the plate. Fastball, slider, sinker. He threw me everything, and everything was working."
If Mauer fails to catch Detroit's Miguel Cabrera for his fourth AL batting title, we might look back to this crisp, sunny day in the Twins Cities when the campaign began to lose steam. Mauer's batting average dropped to .323.
New York isn't worried about crushing batting title dreams, it's worried about the postseason. Its starting rotation has been slowed by injuries for much of the season, and that includes Sabathia, who landed on the disabled list because of a sore elbow last month. He had been 1-3 since returning, although he got a no-decision while throwing eight shutout innings at Oakland on Friday.
Two consecutive outings of at least eight innings make the Yankees feel like they have their ace ready for the playoff percolator. The Yankees lead Baltimore by 1 1/2 games in the East and finish their season with three games in Toronto, then three at home against Boston. The Orioles have three games at home against Boston before three at Tampa -- a team still clinging to postseason hopes.
"Let's go to Toronto and see what happens there," Yankees first baseman Nick Swisher said through a wide grin.
Matt Carson drove in the first run of the game with a single in the second. New York answered by sending nine batters to the plate and scoring six runs in the third inning off reliever Brian Duensing, who had replaced starter Samuel Deduno, who had to leave because of left eye irritation.
That set up an important bottom of the third, which Swisher called "the shutdown inning." A team coming off a big inning that can shut down the opponent can really establish momentum.
Sabathia needed 13 pitches to get Pedro Florimon to strike out and Denard Span and Ben Revere to ground out.
"I think my fastball command is really where it starts, and me being able to spot it up makes a big difference," Sabathia said. "Being able to go in and come away with it, I got some big strikeouts. Being able to command that definitely helps."
The Twins didn't score again until the seventh, with the Yankees well in control.
Sabathia increased his career record to 16-8 against the Twins, most of it amassed during his eight seasons with Cleveland. Over his past 11 starts against the Twins, he's 10-0 with a 1.96 ERA.
"We knew he had some injuries earlier," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It didn't look like much was wrong with him today. It looked like he was pouring it in there pretty good, and if there's any health problems, we didn't get a chance to see them today. He was pretty dominant."
La Velle E. Neal III firstname.lastname@example.org