Nobody warms to a heat wave more than CC Sabathia.
Pitching on a 95-degree night in New York, the burly left-hander carried a shutout into the seventh inning during his sparkling return from the disabled list and the steamrolling Yankees got an early three-run homer from Andruw Jones in a 6-1 victory Tuesday over the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I love it," Sabathia said about the sweltering temperature. "My arm feels good when it's warm."
Sidelined since June 24 because of a groin strain, Sabathia (10-3) silenced a Blue Jays lineup minus Jose Bautista. The All-Star slugger was placed on the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day.
"They have a good lineup," Sabathia said, "with or without him."
Hard to tell when they face Sabathia. The 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner improved to 13-3 against Toronto, including 8-0 with a 2.49 ERA in nine starts since the beginning of the 2007 season.
The good news for Bautista and the Blue Jays is that the wrist injury he sustained Monday isn't as severe as initially feared, so he hopes to be back before long.
"That's a pretty big void anytime you lose a guy like that, so we'll adjust along the way and continue to put up a good game plan," Toronto manager John Farrell said.
The first-place Yankees hardly missed a beat without Sabathia, going 12-6 while their ace was out and extending their AL East lead to a season-high nine games heading into Tuesday. He went on the DL the same day fellow starter Andy Pettitte broke his ankle, but New York just keeps rolling right along.
"It was tough sitting here and watching your teammates go out and battle every day," Sabathia said. "It feels good to come back and be a part of it."
Jayson Nix had three hits in a rare start at third base and Derek Jeter dumped an RBI double inside the right-field line during a three-run seventh that gave the Yankees breathing room. Chris Stewart also had a run-scoring double in a rally that was aided by some shoddy play in the corners by Blue Jays outfielders.
"I think I have a really good bench that can be extremely productive for us," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "It's been really helpful."
Girardi was a little concerned Sabathia might feel too strong after his three-week layoff. But the six-time All-Star flashed a sharp slider and permitted only four hits in six-plus innings. He struck out six and walked one, working around a leadoff double in the second.
"I wasn't expecting as much velocity as he had tonight," said Stewart, who has been catching Sabathia regularly. "I'm glad we have him back."
The 290-pound Sabathia threw 66 of 87 pitches for strikes and walked off to a rousing ovation after Adam Lind's leadoff single in the seventh. Five relievers finished up, with Chad Qualls allowing Colby Rasmus' sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Girardi thinks the injury break will benefit Sabathia in the long run this season.
"CC likes the heat," the manager said. "Can't say that I ever did, but CC really enjoys it."
Rafael Soriano entered with the bases loaded and earned his 24th save in 25 attempts when pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia lined into a game-ending double play.
The runner doubled off first base to end it was speedy prospect Anthony Gose, just called up from Triple-A Las Vegas to fill Bautista's roster spot. Gose made his big league debut as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and got his first career hit on a bunt single back to the mound in the ninth.
New York (56-34) has won eight of 10 to move a season-best 22 games over .500, the best record in the majors. The Yankees are 35-13 since May 22, including 17-6 at home. They improved to 10-2-1 in their last 13 series.
"We've been doing a little bit of everything," Jeter said. "We've got a pretty good combination of things going right now."
Sabathia's successful return overshadowed an encouraging outing by Brett Cecil (2-2), who entered with a 6.75 ERA in five major league starts this year. The 26-year-old lefty, demoted to Double-A New Hampshire at the beginning of the season, held the powerful Yankees in check for six innings and retired his final eight batters. He struck out five and walked two.
"I felt really good about it," Cecil said. "It was just one pitch."
Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to a career-best 20 games with a leadoff single in the second. Nick Swisher walked and Jones pulled a drive into the left-field corner for his 12th homer.
It was New York's 145th home run, most in the majors. The bottom three hitters in the Yankees' lineup combined for five hits and four RBIs.