CHICAGO -- The presence of Adam Dunn in the on-deck circle used to strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.
On Monday night, it brought CC Sabathia comfort -- and helped him lead the Yankees to a 3-2 win over the White Sox on a night his best stuff wasn't there.
Dunn's struggles against lefties this season have been so pronounced that a couple of the times Sabathia got into trouble -- and he got into a fair share of it en route to giving up 10 hits -- he felt confident with the lefty-hitting Dunn batting in a big spot.
Dunn wound up going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts -- two of which came with the tying run on base late in the game -- and now has three hits and 35 strikeouts in 77 at-bats against southpaws this year.
The most telling sign of Dunn's struggles came in the bottom of the eighth. As the Yankees barely held onto a one-run lead with two outs and nobody on, third baseman Eric Chavez approached Sabathia and shot him a quick reminder: Dunn is on deck; don't give in to Carlos Quentin.
Quentin wound up with a single, then Sabathia got Dunn swinging.
As the boos for Dunn cascaded from the U.S. Cellular Field stands, Sabathia had put the finishing touches on a start that moved him to 9-1 since June 14, put his ERA at 1.01 in his last eight starts and allowed him to pass Justin Verlander for the Major League lead in wins with 16.
"He's had a tough year," Sabathia -- who finished giving up two runs and no walks in eight innings -- said of Dunn. "I know he hadn't hit lefties really good this year, so I was just trying to make pitches, and I ended up getting him in some tough spots."
Thanks to another quality performance by Sabathia, on a night when his go-to slider was admittedly not as sharp, the Yankees -- the ones who surprisingly didn't make a single trade in July -- moved to 7-2 in their last nine games. And with the Red Sox's 9-6 loss to the Indians, New York moved a game back of first place in the American League East just four days before starting a three-game series at Fenway Park.
Early on, it looked like Monday's win was going to be easy.
Four batters into the game, the Yanks had two quick runs off Jake Peavy on an RBI double by Illinois native Curtis Granderson -- his first of two -- and an RBI single by Robinson Cano.
Peavy -- who came in with a 5.27 ERA -- settled down after that, scattering just one run on four hits in his next six frames, retiring the last seven batters he faced and keeping his team in the game.
But the White Sox finished 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"We swung the bat good against [Sabathia]," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We had a couple of good hits, but we don't take advantage with people on base."
Chicago made it a 3-2 game in the fourth when the wiry, 175-pound Alexei Ramirez hit a two-run homer off the 290-pound Sabathia -- just the seventh homer the Yankees' ace has given up in 175 2/3 innings this year. But Sabathia maintained the lead, even though the White Sox had at least one runner in scoring position in the fifth, sixth and seventh.
"He makes quality pitches all the time, and if it's not the hitter we have right now, it's the next one," said Francisco Cervelli, who has caught Sabathia in three of his last four starts and has established a good rapport with the burly left-hander. "He's smart, and I think when he gets men in scoring position, he gets a little more [smart]."
Here's one thing practically any smart lefty will do these days: Attack Dunn.
With a man on second and two outs in the sixth, Sabathia struck out Dunn on a 1-2 slider. And with 101 pitches to his name and one on in the eighth, he retired Dunn on three straight pitches -- a 97-mph fastball, a 98-mph fastball and an 84-mph slider.
It was never that easy against the man who averaged 40 homers from 2004-10, but that's the kind of year Dunn has had.
And on this night, Sabathia used it to his advantage.
"I mean, you know [the power is] there, and he's just having a tough year," Sabathia said. "You don't want to make mistakes, you don't want to give in, you don't want to get lazy and make a pitch that you'll regret."
The Yankees, who will end up playing 21 road games this month, are now 28-20 away from Yankee Stadium.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.