NEW YORK — CC Sabathia found himself in trouble as soon as he stepped on the mound Tuesday night.
The veteran left-hander was able to escape an early jam, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Sabathia recovered from a shaky start to pitch six innings, Brett Gardner had a pair of tying hits and the New York Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 5-2 to ensure their sixth straight series win.
"Luckily my stuff was pretty good coming out of the bullpen because I had to make some pitches," Sabathia said. "Everything kind of happened so quick that you don't really have time."
With their ninth victory in 11 games, the Yankees remained three games behind AL East-leading Boston and opened a six-game lead over the Twins for the top AL wild card. At 84-67, the Yankees are 17 games over .500 for the first time since September 2015.
"We're three games back, so kind of have our backs against the wall a little bit," Gardner said about the division race. "But we've been playing really good baseball and we just need to continue to do that and keep the pressure on them, make them keep winning."
Minnesota, which is 1 1/2 games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card, has lost four of five.
Pitching on seven days' rest in a game that started 65 minutes late because of rain, Sabathia (12-5) allowed Minnesota to load the bases on his first four pitches. He fell behind 1-0 and 2-1 but hung on and allowed six hits with one walk and five strikeouts. He retired 10 in a row during one stretch.
"I felt good," the 37-year-old Sabathia said. "At this point in my career, all the rest I can get is good rest for me."
Sabathia stranded the bases loaded in the sixth when Gardner caught Eddie Rosario's wind-assisted fly just in front of the left-field wall.
"Sometimes you can't tell here with the way the wind swirls a little bit," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought it was an out off the bat."
Sabathia fanned Chris Gimenez in the second for his 2,833th strikeout, passing Mickey Lolich for sole possession of 18th overall and third among left-handers behind Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton.
"That's pretty cool, especially with the two guys that are in front of me I'm never going to catch," Sabathia said. "But it's cool to have your name up there with those guys."
Aroldis Chapman worked a scoreless ninth for his 20th save in 24 chances.
New York won despite going 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position and stranding 14.
Minnesota loaded the bases in the first when Brian Dozier singled on Sabathia's first pitch, Joe Mauer took a pitch and dropped a bunt down the third-base line that rolled off the bag and Jorge Polanco reached on a bunt single to third when the original out call by first base umpire Gary Cederstrom was overturned on a video review.
Eduardo Escobar hit a run-scoring, double-play grounder, but Gardner tied the score with an RBI double in the second that extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
"We came right out of the chute and put pressure on them," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "You know your opportunities are going to be limited. You try to cash it in when you can."
Max Kepler sent a drive off the second deck in right leading off the third, the first home run by a left-hander off Sabathia this season. Gardner tied the score again in the fourth with an RBI single that chased Jose Berrios (12-8), who allowed three runs, five hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.
"They took a lot of pitches and they were able to have a good night tonight against me," Berrios said through a translator.
Alan Busenitz relieved with two on and threw a wild pitch, then allowed Aaron Judge's go-ahead sacrifice fly.
Mauer booted Greg Bird's hard-hit, bases-loaded grounder to first for a run-scoring error in the fifth inning that made it 4-2. Starlin Castro, who had three hits, added an RBI single in the sixth.
Twins: 3B Miguel Sano (left shin) was in New York for personal reasons and planned to return to Minnesota on Tuesday night. With the minor league season over and the Twins' Instructional League plans unclear due to facility damage caused by Hurricane Irma, the club is concerned he might not face enough pitching to get his timing back before any post-season games.
Yankees: DH Matt Holliday sat out for the second straight game as Girardi opted for a lefty-laden lineup against Berrios. "Matty'll probably be back in there tomorrow," Girardi said.
RHP Luis Severino (13-6, 2.93 ERA) starts Wednesday's series finale, moved up two days from his originally scheduled outing Friday in Toronto. The Yankees want Severino in position to make three more regular-season starts if needed. He will be facing Minnesota for the first time. RHP Bartolo Colon (6-13, 6.39 ERA) is 4-5 with a 4.80 ERA in 12 starts since signing with the Twins on July 7.
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