NEW YORK -- Sweating profusely, CC Sabathia roared in the 92-degree heat Sunday afternoon. He was in the middle of a mano-a-mano battle with one of the best pitchers on the planet, King Felix Hernandez.
It was one of those matchups that, just a few years ago, would have been on the marquee as ace versus ace. But not now, not with Sabathia diminished, not with him entering with a 4-8 record, a 5.47 ERA and possibly a loose grasp on his spot in the New York Yankees' rotation.
In the fifth inning of the 2-1 Yankees win, Sabathia ceded the game's first run, allowing an RBI single to Austin Jackson. Now, with one-out, there were runners on the corners and the Seattle Mariners had two of their few good hitters up in lefties Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano. It was the type of scenario that has been Sabathia's undoing during what he called the worst first half of his career.
Sabathia took care of Seager on three pitches. After the strikeout, it was Cano. Cano -- who, like Sabathia, has struggled all season -- hit two home runs to beat the Yankees Saturday so he stepped to the plate with even more boos raining down. Sabathia would beat Cano, ending the at-bat with an 80-MPH slider.
After the swing and the miss, Sabathia turned his back slightly on the mound, pumped his fist and roared to celebrate. He knew what the out meant and -- possibly -- what it could mean.
"That was a big spot for me," Sabathia said. "That is a spot where I have been getting hurt. To be able to get those outs was big."
Sabathia would match Hernandez by going six innings and allowing just a run in a no-decision. Pitching in the heat, which he loves, Sabathia was on the same plain as Hernandez, at least for a day.
"CC was great," said Mark Teixeira, whose eighth inning solo homer off Fernando Rodney ultimately gave the Yankees the win. "He matched one of the best pitchers in baseball pitch-for-pitch. It is tough to beat King Felix, but CC rose to the occasion today and kept us in the game."
Sabathia now has two solid starts since he had his surgically repaired knee drained. They were against two of the worst hitting teams against lefties in American League.
The Mariners are 14 out of 15 in runs scored against lefties, while Oakland -- Sabathia's last opponent -- is 14th in the AL in OPS against left-handers. Sabathia, though, shouldn't be penalized for Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild's meticulous planning.
They know Sabathia has major issues against right-handed batters. Righties entered Sunday with a Giancarlo Stanton-like .932 OPS against Sabathia. On Sunday, the Mariners right-handed hitters -- who aren't particularly good besides Nelson Cruz -- were 5-for-15 against Sabathia.
Hernandez said, "What CC did today was not surprising to me despite the fact that he has not had the best results this season. I know what kind of pitcher he really is. I actually watched him pitch during the game from the tunnel, and his pitches were really sharp today. You have to give him credit for such a great outing under very difficult conditions."
Rodriguez added, "I thought stuff wise, it was the best we have seen all year. I thought he was throwing a really good fastball. He was throwing three versions of his fastball. He has also introduced a cutter. That cutter is going to be extremely important; especially against righties because it is going to open up the outer half, it is a huge pitch for him."
Sabathia is very important, both on the mound and off it. He is the leader of the starting staff, which, besides him, does not contain much pennant race experience. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Nathan Eovaldi may be better than Sabathia now, but Sabathia will lead them.
Before the All-Star break, Girardi told Sabathia that he needed him to be out front in the second.
"You are the one that understands this time of year," Girardi said he reminded Sabathia. "You need to lead our guys."
Sabathia has the desire to do it. He is trying to evolve with his reduce ability. There were no conclusions to be drawn on Sunday, but for a hot day in July, Sabathia roared like an ace again.