NEW YORK -- A huge lightning bolt streaked across center field in the sixth inning on Tuesday, and the skies were just about the only thing that could slow CC Sabathia.
The Yankees' ace retired the first 19 Mariners to face him en route to a 4-1 victory, but it was the opinion of many of his teammates that the first of two rain delays short-circuited Sabathia's bid for history.
"Without those delays, he just had it going," said third baseman Eric Chavez. "There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to throw a no-hitter. He looked unhittable. He looked nasty."
The tarpaulin was called for after Sabathia struck out Mike Carp swinging for the first out of the sixth inning, Sabathia's seventh straight strikeout and his 11th on the way to a career-high 14.
"That's part of the game," Sabathia said. "It happens and you can't dwell on it."
After a 30-minute delay, Sabathia came back and completed the sixth, losing his perfect game when Brendan Ryan connected with a 2-0 fastball for a single with one out in the seventh inning.
Another delay of 14 minutes followed the top half of the seventh, and Sabathia lost his release point when he returned for the eighth. But everyone had already been wowed by the first 5 1/3 innings.
"Pretty invincible stuff," Ryan said. "He's always got Sabathia stuff, but today that was, by far, the best I've ever seen him pitch. I almost feel disrespectful saying that because we all know what he's capable of, but when you're locating the fastball, and the way he was throwing that slider, stealing strikes with that curveball here and there, he was absolutely filthy."
Looking on from the bullpen, Yankees reliever Dave Robertson said Sabathia certainly had no-hit stuff.
"I was watching the whole thing and I thought he was unbelievable," Robertson said. "He was locked in and wasn't missing with any of his pitches. He was getting ahead 0-2 on everybody. It was an awesome outing for him. I wish he would have kept it going and gone nine innings to get what he was going for."
Mark Teixeira said there were no guarantees about what might have happened, but he liked Sabathia's chances.
"I think it's a better chance," Teixeira said. "Those rain delays are tough. The first one is tough, but once the second one hit, it was really tough to be out there. You never know. No rain, he might have had a perfect game."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi knew Sabathia's bid was in trouble when he saw head groundskeeper Dan Cunningham poking his head up from a tunnel, eyeing the umpires for a chat. At that point, he knew Mother Nature would have a say in the outcome.
"You'll never know," Girardi said. "He was so sharp before the rain delay. I thought his slider got a little bit bigger after the rain delay; I didn't think he was quite as sharp. We'll never know, but golly, that 5 1/3 [innings], he was brilliant."
Chavez activated, in lineup at third base
NEW YORK -- It has been a while, but the Yankees remember being pleased with the contributions that Eric Chavez made on the field for them earlier this season. They'd love to see some more.
With Alex Rodriguez expected to be sidelined until mid-August, they are banking that Chavez will continue to shine in a part-time role. The veteran was activated from the disabled list before Tuesday's game, stroking a RBI single in the fifth inning of New York's 4-1 win over the Mariners.
"I think he can help us a lot," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He can play some third [base], he can play some first [base]. There's a lot of different things he can do. If he swings the bat the way he did before he left, he can help us a lot."
The Yankees optioned infielder Brandon Laird to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to create room on the active roster for Chavez.
Chavez, 33, was batting .303 (10-for-33) with two doubles, a triple and six RBIs when he fractured his left foot running the bases on May 5 in Detroit, beginning a stint on the disabled list that also included a kidney stone and a minor back injury.
He said that his at-bats felt better during his six rehab games with Class A Tampa, and he is expecting to have improved over how he was hitting in May.
"I'm hoping that it's better, to be honest with you," Chavez said. "I wasn't really driving the ball."
Suiting up for play on a Major League diamond for the first time in nearly three months, Chavez said that he had been itching to return.
"The frustration was pretty high," Chavez said. "It's not easy, but I'm glad I'm back and looking forward to [Tuesday]."
Girardi installed Chavez at third base for Tuesday's game, but said that Eduardo Nunez will continue to see time on the infield.
"I'm not of the belief that we would play Chavy six or seven days in a row," Girardi said. "We're going to make sure we keep him healthy."
Soriano in New York, return likely this week
NEW YORK -- Rafael Soriano figures to return to the Yankees' bullpen on Friday, when the team opens a four-game weekend series with the Orioles.
The right-hander traveled to New York on Tuesday to be evaluated after pitching in back-to-back games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment.
"He felt good today," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "[He had] normal soreness, in a sense, that you'd have after you've thrown for two days. He hadn't thrown in a while, so our plan is to activate him soon. We'll re-evaluate him [Wednesday] and then go from there."
Soriano has been on the disabled list since mid-May with right elbow inflammation. With an off-day set for Thursday, Girardi said it was unlikely the Yankees would rush to activate Soriano for Wednesday.
"It's possible, but probably not," he said. "He's thrown two days in a row. We want to make sure when we do bring him back, he is recovered. So we'll see how he feels [Wednesday]."
After Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Mariners, Girardi would not commit to immediately restoring Soriano to his eighth-inning role, which has been capably filled by All-Star reliever Dave Robertson.
"Well, the first thing is, let me get [Soriano] back," Girardi said. "Then we'll make decisions as the game goes on. We need to get him pitching well, and that's the bottom line, getting him comfortable. He had four outings, which is not a ton of outings -- it's somewhat of a short Spring Training. If we feel that we need him, then I'll make those decisions."
The Yankees entered play on Tuesday with a record of 60-40, marking the 46th time in franchise history that the team has won 60 of its first 100 games in a season. They have done so in three straight years, and have advanced to the playoffs the last nine times they accomplished the feat.
With a triple and a homer on Monday, Derek Jeter became the fourth player in Yankees history with both types of hits in the same game at age 37 or older, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others were Babe Ruth (twice in 1932), pitcher Red Ruffing (1941) and Tim Raines (1998).
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will celebrate his 36th birthday on Wednesday. The three-time American League MVP is continuing his rehabilitation from right knee surgery in Miami, Fla.