ARLINGTON -- The Yankees thought their trip to Texas might be a good measurement of how they would stack up against the American League's best competition, and the early results suggest they're doing just fine.
CC Sabathia pitched eight innings in the longest outing by a Yankees starting pitcher this year, Alex Rodriguez homered and Derek Jeter banged out four hits as the Yankees defeated the Rangers, 7-4, on Monday at Rangers Ballpark.
"That's a really good team," Sabathia said. "They've been in the World Series the past two years, and they pretty much have the same squad coming back. It feels good to come in here, play well and get a win tonight."
New York won its fourth straight contest, trumping the defending AL champions after knocking around lefty Derek Holland for seven runs in six innings.
Owning two runs in his back pocket before heading to the mound, Sabathia pitched with a lead all night. Even after coughing up a couple of runs in the seventh, the left-hander finished strong with a five-pitch eighth inning before Mariano Rivera notched his 607th career save in a perfect ninth.
"These guys are hot as a pistol, and it took a man to give us eight strong innings," said Rodriguez. "Sabathia to Mo, that's always a good recipe to winning."
Holland was hit hardest in a four-run fifth inning that featured Rodriguez's 632nd career homer, a three-run blast that landed in the visitors' bullpen. The shot was Rodriguez's 287th as a Yankee, evening him with Bernie Williams for sixth all time in pinstripes.
"They're obviously the Yankees for a reason," said Holland, who fell to 0-5 in seven career starts against New York. "They have a good ballclub. You have to give them credit."
But the offensive star of the night was Jeter, who went 4-for-5 to raise his average to .411. Rodriguez kidded Jeter that he is smacking the ball like it's 1999 again, belting balls 10-15 rows deep in the seats during batting practice, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi commented that his shortstop is playing like a 25-year-old.
"When I stay back, I feel like good things can happen," said Jeter, who will turn 38 in June. "I went through a long stretch where I didn't stay back. Now I'm staying back, and if you're able to do that, good things happen. But it's not like this is the first time I've done it in my career."
Curtis Granderson put New York on the board by fisting a two-run single into center field with two outs in the top of the first. Nick Swisher added a sacrifice fly in the fourth, and Jeter's fourth hit, a double to deep right-center, knocked home a run in the sixth.
"I think overall, we just grinded out some good at-bats early on," Rodriguez said. "One through nine, everybody gave a good effort, and it's a big win."
Jeter has always been a strong performer against left-handed pitching, but his average against southpaws this year is an obscene .629 (17-for-27).
"I don't think you ever anticipate anyone being this hot, but I'm going to take it," Girardi said. "We're going to keep playing him, and we'll give him his DH days like we've talked about, but he just looks really good."
Working for the second time with backup catcher Chris Stewart, Sabathia pounded the zone with regularity and kept the potent Rangers lineup searching for answers in an eight-strikeout performance.
"I was able to establish the fastball and just pitch from there," said Sabathia, who threw 77 of 109 pitches for strikes, walking one and scattering seven hits. "It gives you confidence, but this is a good lineup, so you can't really slack off or have a mental lapse at all."
Texas knocked in a run in the first inning on a Josh Hamilton double-play ball, and Sabathia kept Texas off the board until Hamilton unloaded on a hanging breaking ball for a solo sixth-inning homer, his AL-leading eighth.
Craig Gentry drove home a couple of runs in the seventh off Sabathia, bouncing a double past a diving Mark Teixeira at first base. A few missed pitches made the game closer than Sabathia wanted, but he induced two grounders to leave Hamilton waiting on deck in the seventh.
"It was big, especially at the time," Sabathia said. "[I was] just trying to minimize the damage. If I make two pitches, I have a good chance of getting out of that inning without any runs. It's a little disappointing, but I was just glad I was able to get out without having a big inning."
Sabathia had showed signs of clicking into form over the last four innings of his previous start, against the Twins, something that carried over to this start. Sabathia graded his outing as so-so by his own standards but viewed the 11 ground-ball outs he notched as a positive.
"It's huge, especially with this lineup," Sabathia said. "It means that we were moving the ball all around, the offspeed pitches were working really good and we were getting some ground balls. Especially in this park, it feels good."