By BEN WALKER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — CC Sabathia twirled on the mound, gave a shout and violently punched the air.
Far from a must-win, it certainly was a welcomed one for the New York Yankees and their ace.
Sabathia outpitched David Price for the first time in six career matchups between the All-Star lefties, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson homered and the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 Thursday night.
"CC seems to be the big guy right now," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Sabathia (5-0) struck out 10 as New York overcame a pair of early errors by third baseman Eduardo Nunez and sent Tampa Bay to its fourth loss in five games.
Sabathia punctuated his outing by fanning B.J. Upton with two runners on base to end the seventh inning with the Yankees leading 5-2. The burly pitcher let loose, catcher Chris Stewart pumped his fist and Upton pounded his bat in the ground after swinging over a slider.
"I was fired up I was going to make pitches to B.J. Upton," Sabathia said.
Sabathia allowed two unearned runs in eight innings — the fourth straight start he's gone exactly that long. He finished up by striking out Carlos Pena, who slung his bat all the way to the Tampa Bay dugout in disgust.
Rafael Soriano gave up a run in the ninth for a save in his first try of the season. In 2010, he led the AL in saves with Tampa Bay.
Soriano yielded a single and an RBI grounder, a night after the Rays scored four runs in the ninth off fill-in closer David Robertson. Girardi said he wasn't going to use Robertson for a third straight day, but was OK to do it with Soriano.
Sabathia appreciated the support from his hitters and relief. The 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner had won just twice in 14 starts against the Rays since putting on the pinstripes. Price had been a particular nemesis, too, with Tampa Bay winning all five previous times he faced Sabathia.
"I didn't know that stat that I hadn't beat him," Sabathia said.
Price (5-1) never found a rhythm and gave up 11 hits, many of them well tagged. Trying to win five consecutive starts for the first time in his career, he instead wound up on the wrong end of another personal first — never before had two left-handed hitters homered off him in the same game.
"I made some good pitches tonight, they hit them, that's it," Price said. "It's a good hitting team. You make mistakes and they hit them."
Granderson lined a solo shot into the second deck in right field in the second. Cano's two-run drive in the fifth made it 4-2 and sailed far over the Yankees' bullpen in right-center.
Nunez started in the field while Alex Rodriguez served as the designated hitter. Nunez misplayed a grounder in the first and made a wild throw in the second. He also singled twice, walked and stole two bases, and was taken out after five innings with New York up 5-2.
Girardi said it was a "tough night" in the field for Nunez, adding the Yankees might have to re-evaluate how they use him on defense.
Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher threw out a runner at the plate to end the first. He singled to set up Cano's go-ahead homer.
NOTES: Yankees OF Brett Gardner (strained right elbow) had swelling after a Triple-A game Wednesday and will not swing a bat for 10 days. "We're going to be without Gardy for a while," Girardi said. Girardi estimated it could be 15 to 25 days, but didn't think it would be a "three-month" absence. ... Price had allowed just six homers to lefty hitters in 613 2-3 career innings coming into the game. ... Robertson's ninth-inning troubles Wednesday night left him 1 for 2 in save tries since replacing injured Mariano Rivera. "I really believe this kid is going to bounce back," Girardi said. ... Yankees reserve 3B-1B Eric Chavez was eligible to come off the 7-day DL for concussions, but Girardi said he hadn't passed all the Major League Baseball tests. ... Rays OF Matt Joyce said he felt better and didn't expect to miss any time after twisting his left ankle while hitting a go-ahead home run Wednesday night. Joyce fell down and wound up sprawled across the plate, prompting Price to kid him. "He said I need to work on my dismount," Joyce said. Joyce didn't start as the Rays went with mostly righty hitters vs. Sabathia.
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