CC Sabathia’s fastball was hitting 94 mph. Mark Teixeira walked and scored the first run. Kevin Youkilis singled in another.
The Yankees started to look a little more like the Yankees.
Sabathia (5-4) matched his season high with 10 strikeouts following two months of a puzzling drop in velocity, and New York got two key bats back Friday night in a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox that stopped a season-high, five-game losing streak.
”Any time you get two guys like that back to your team, it’s going to add something to our lineup,” said Sabathia, who ended a five-start winless streak, one short of his career high.
Out since injuring his right wrist March 5, Teixeira worked out a seven-pitch walk in the second inning in his first plate appearance of the season and scored on Jayson Nix’s single.
”It’s going to take a few days, but you’re knocking some rust off,” Teixeira said after an 0-for-3 night. ”Great first at-bat, just getting to run around the bases and score a run. That really just kind of breaks you in a little bit. You want to feel like you’re helping the team out as soon as you get out there.”
Sidelined by a back injury since April 27, Youkilis was 1 for 4 as the designated hitter with a fifth-inning single that boosted the lead to 3-0.
”Felt great. Just glad to get a win,” he said.
While New York still is missing shortstop Derek Jeter, regular third baseman Alex Rodriguez, left fielder Curtis Granderson and catcher Francisco Cervelli, the batting order had a different feel. The Yankees had gone three straight games without a walk for the first time in 1991. Brett Gardner walked leading off the first against Jon Lester (6-2), who issued four free passes in all.
”These guys grind out at-bats,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ”I think their impact is big, and we need to keep them healthy.”
After getting swept by the Mets over four games, Girardi was fired up and got ejected in the fifth inning for arguing a forceout call against New York by second-base umpire Vic Carapazza. Replays showed Carapazza made the correct call.
Sabathia allowed six hits and no walks in 7 1-3 innings. Coming back from offseason elbow surgery, he entered with an average fastball velocity of 90.2 mph this season, according to fangraphs.com. That was down from 92.4 mph last year and 93.9 mph in 2011.
”I haven’t seen any 94s until tonight, and there were a lot of 92s to 94s, where we’ve seen a lot of 89s to 91s,” Girardi said.
Sabathia used to focus on velocity but says he doesn’t any more.
”When I was younger, I did, I thought that was the way I was getting guys out,” he said. ”But as I got older I know it’s more location than it is velocity.”
On an 86-degree night, he mixed in a slider and changeup he threw with authority and precision, helping the Yankees close within a game of first-place Boston in the AL East.
”I understand why people have some cause for concern, but he’s a guy that a lot of times when it warms up he gets on a roll,” Girardi said. ”And today was really the first hot night that he’s pitched in, and it was the best stuff we’ve seen from him.”
Given a 2-0 lead in the second on RBI singles from Nix and Ichiro Suzuki, Sabathia improved to 9-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 13 starts following Yankees losses since the start of the 2012 season. He threw 73 of 109 pitches for strikes and allowed his only run on Mike Napoli’s RBI double in the seventh.
Sabathia reached double digits strikeouts for the 17th time with the Yankees and 36th overall. He got three called strikeouts from plate umpire Lance Barksdale, who appeared to have a generous strike zone, and was backed by two double plays. There were 10 caught lookings in all, and players from both teams argued with the ump.
”Any time he was in a fastball count, he’d go to his breaking ball or his changeup to keep us off stride,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Lester, who won at Yankees Stadium on opening day, lost his second straight decision. Struggling with his control – he had 48 pitches through two innings – he gave up four runs, six hits and a hit batter in 6 1-3 innings. He left with two on, and Gardner greeted Andrew Miller with an RBI single.
David Robertson followed Sabathia, and Mariano Rivera rebounded from Tuesday’s blown save at the Mets to pitch a two-hit ninth for his 19th save in 20 chances. He entered to a standing ovation.
With the losing streak over, the Yankees seemed to exhale and relax.
”I think it was an important game after the little stretch that we’ve been in,” Girardi said.
NOTES: The Yankees’ May 19 rainout against Toronto will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on Aug. 20. … New York optioned RHP Ivan Nova and LHP Vidal Nuno to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. Girardi said a position player likely would be moved off the active roster when LHP Andy Pettitte is activated Monday to start against Cleveland.