SEATTLE -- CC Sabathia celebrated his 37th birthday with a victory over the Mariners on Friday, with Aaron Judge delivering the biggest present -- a towering three-run home run that nearly exited Safeco Field -- as the Yankees won their second straight, 5-1.
Sabathia threw five-plus innings of one-run ball as he improved to 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA. It's the first time in six tries that Sabathia has won on his birthday, but it's no surprise that success finally came at Safeco, where he's 10-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 14 starts.
"He had to battle tonight, because he didn't have his great stuff," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It actually was probably best the last couple of innings. … But he battled out of the first inning, and he's always had a lot of heart, and that's what we're getting."
Judge supplied the fireworks with his fifth-inning blast into the last rows of the upper deck in left field off Mariners rookie Andrew Moore, his Major League-leading 31st home run of the year. Judge also had a sacrifice fly in the third as he hiked his season RBI total to 72, two behind American League leader Nelson Cruz of the Mariners.
"Tonight's ballgame was about a couple big hits that they got and we didn't," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "Andrew Moore obviously made the mistake to Judge and Judge is having a phenomenal season and is a very talented young guy. Bad pitch in a bad spot and a bad result, and that got us behind the eight-ball a little there."
Kyle Seager reached base three times, on a single, walk and hit by pitch, and he drove in Seattle's lone run with a first-inning infield hit, but the Mariners fell to 48-50 and 3 1/2 games back of the Yankees (50-45) in the chase for the second AL Wild Card spot.
"He hit it pretty good," Seager said of Judge's blast. "It was definitely a big swing in the game. It was a real tight game, and that kind of opens it up. The way CC was throwing and their bullpen, that's a pretty tough hill to climb."
David Robertson made his first relief appearance for the Yankees since being acquired from the White Sox and struck out the side in the seventh. Tommy Kahnle, obtained in the same deal, set the Mariners down in order in the sixth after replacing Sabathia following a leadoff walk to Seager.
"We just have to get a few runs for our starter, then after five innings we can just hand it off to our bullpen," Judge said. "With the guys we got now, and the ones we already had, we've got one of the best bullpens in the game right now."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Judge unloads: The big Yankees rookie broke out of his recent cold spell when he unleashed on a 2-1 curve from Moore and gave a souvenir to a fan in the upper reaches of Safeco's left-field deck. The fan chose to throw the ball back on the field, but that didn't slow Judge as he circled the bases for the 31st time this season. The 25-year-old had gone just 6-for-36 with no extra-base hits and two RBIs over his previous 10 games. Judge went 1-for-2 with a walk and sacrifice fly to put his average at .313 on the year.
"I've definitely seen what he can do, said Mariners left fielder Ben Gamel, who spent the previous three seasons coming up in the Minors with Judge in the Yankees' system. "He put a good swing on it. He's 6-8 and 290 pounds. That's a lot of force."
The 'other' rookie did OK, too: Yankees left fielder Clint Frazier, playing just his 14th game since being called up, drove in his team's first run with a third-inning double. But the 22-year-old flashed some leather as well with a nice diving catch to rob Mike Zunino in the second inning. Frazier didn't get a great jump on the looping line drive, but he made up ground in a hurry and recorded what Statcast™ labeled a three star catch, with a 71 percent catch probability. With Ben Gamel on second after a leadoff double, that play helped Sabathia get out of that inning with no damage.
"That was incredible," Judge said of Frazier's catch. "Off the bat I didn't think he had a chance, but with his speed he can catch anything out there. He's an athlete, he's got speed and it was impressive. It was really impressive."