BALTIMORE -- In earning his 20th win for the first time in his career, CC Sabathia was not at his finest on Saturday night at Camden Yards. But like so many other times throughout his career, Sabathia didn't need to be at his best to get the victory.

It seems fitting that -- in beating the Orioles, 11-3, to pick up win No. 20 -- Sabathia was more good than great. This is a pitcher, after all, whose excellence derives less from his occasional brilliance than from his near-constant effectiveness.

The essence of Sabathia is that what are bad starts for him are still good for most anyone else. When he doesn't have his best stuff, he is still, much more often than not, better than his opponent. That is why, as manager Joe Girardi has reiterated across the past two seasons, Sabathia is an ace.

"Really happy for him," Girardi said after the win, which kept the Yankees a half-game ahead of the Rays in the American League East. "He's been our ace all year -- really since he's gotten here. To get to 20 wins is quite an accomplishment. ... I think it's meaningful to any pitcher."

"He's been our horse all year long -- that's why they brought him here," said Nick Swisher, who went 2-for-5 as the designated hitter in his return to the lineup. "He's living up to the hype, and it's fun to watch. I'm glad he's on our side."

In what has by now been canonized as the Year of the Pitcher, it is Sabathia who is first to 20 wins. No pitcher won 20 in 2009, and only five AL hurlers did so in the last five seasons.

Sabathia, as usual, was measured in addressing his feat.

"I feel good -- I'm more excited that we won the game and people can stop asking me about it," Sabathia said. "Right now, we're in the middle of this thing, still trying to win a championship and trying to win a division. Maybe after the season, I can sit back and enjoy it more."

Sabathia did it with, at least for him, an unremarkable line. One start after he dominated the Rays in a pitchers' duel for eight innings, Sabathia allowed the O's three runs on seven hits in seven innings. Although the lefty turned in only one 1-2-3 inning, Baltimore only put multiple runners on base in one frame against him.

"That's why he's won the number of games that he has, because even though you make him work, he doesn't give in," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "Things don't happen by accident. He has success because he works his way through that. He's an athletic man."

The Orioles denied Sabathia in his first attempt to win 20 back on Sept. 7; they couldn't pull it off a second time.

"We spoiled it once, but against a pitcher of his caliber, it's tough to do it twice," said Nolan Reimold.

The Yankees have certainly enjoyed having Sabathia on the mound this season. The left-hander has completed at least seven innings in 22 of his 32 starts, and he has allowed more than three earned runs just six times. In 2010, the Yankees are 12 games over .500 in the 32 games started by Sabathia and 20 games over in the other 116 contests begun by anyone else.

Unlike in his last time out, Sabathia benefited from a surplus of run support on Saturday, beginning in the first inning. The Yankees, aided by a first-pitch plunking of Derek Jeter, scored twice in the opening frame on a Jorge Posada single that glanced off Ty Wigginton's glove at first base.

Jeter tacked on a pair of runs on a sacrifice fly in the second and an RBI groundout in the fourth. Robinson Cano delivered the big blow, a long two-run homer in the fifth that created a four-run separation.

"We know it's CC's third time going for [20 wins], so that's in the back of our mind a little bit," Swisher said. "We definitely wanted to come out tonight and finally get him that win he so much deserves."

The Yankees added insurance runs against the Baltimore bullpen, capped off by Curtis Granderson's three-run homer to center in the ninth.

It was a night of individual milestones in a team victory, with Jeter reaching 100 runs for the 13th time in his career -- tying teammate Alex Rodriguez for the most among active players -- and Cano securing 100 RBIs for the first time. He's the third Yankees infielder to reach the mark this year, a franchise record.

"It means a lot," said Cano, whose viability as the team's No. 5 hitter was one of the hot topics coming out of Spring Training. "That's one of the things you want to do in this game."

The Yankees have now won consecutive games for the first time in two weeks, and they have a chance to sweep the Orioles on Sunday and salvage the last part of a once-woeful road trip.

"It was tough the first two cities we went to, and we have a chance to turn it around and finish strong," Girardi said. "[Sunday] is a big day for us."