NEW YORK – Erik Johnson's major league debut came at Yankee Stadium against a $230 million team in the middle of a pennant race.
No wonder he was nervous.
"Tough draw for your first one," veteran teammate Paul Konerko said. "He held his own."
Struggling ace CC Sabathia pitched into the eighth inning before Mariano Rivera earned his first four-out save in more than two years, helping the New York Yankees hold off the White Sox, 6-5, on Wednesday night for a three-game sweep.
After winning 10 of 12, the last-place Sox have lost six straight to start a 10-game trip against AL East contenders.
Robinson Cano homered for the Yankees, looking to chase down a playoff berth with their late-season charge. Brett Gardner hit a two-run triple and Lyle Overbay an RBI double in a four-run fourth against Johnson (0-1), called up from the minors on Tuesday.
"I think it'll get easier after this one," Konerko said. "I'm sure he threw some pitches tonight that might have been safe where he came from, but there are some above-average hitters in their lineup. But you can see it's there."
The 23-year-old Johnson allowed five runs – three earned – and seven hits over six innings. A second-round draft pick two years ago, he went 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 24 starts combined at Triple-A Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham this season.
"It was a great feeling to be out there," said Johnson, who acknowledged being nervous early. "I think I could have just filled up the strike zone a bit better, worked ahead, especially with all my pitches. That was the main thing."
Johnson, third baseman Marcus Semien and reliever Daniel Webb made the White Sox the first team this season to have three players make their big league debuts in the same game.
"That's the position that we're in," said manager Robin Ventura, happy with the efforts of all three. "It's a positive step."
New York, which entered 2½ games behind Tampa Bay for the second AL wild card, has won 15 of 18 home games and 17 of 24 overall. Swept in three games at Chicago from Aug. 5-7, the Yankees returned the favor a month later.
With the Yankees leading 6-1 and seemingly in control, Sabathia (13-11) walked off to a warm ovation with two on and one out in the eighth. But normally reliable setup man David Robertson gave up an RBI single to Avisail Garcia, a two-run single to Josh Phegley with two outs and an RBI single to rookie Marcus Semien that cut the cushion to one.
"That's one thing I say about our team is we do fight to the end," Konerko said. "We've had a lot of games that looked just like that this year where we were down four, five runs and we fight back, we just can't finish it off."
Well aware of his team's precarious position in the pennant race, manager Joe Girardi quickly went to Rivera, who threw a called third strike past Alejandro De Aza to end the inning.
Rivera then got three quick outs in the ninth for his second save in two nights and 41st this season in 46 tries. It was his first save of more than three outs since July 24, 2011, against Oakland.
Baseball's career saves leader with 649, Rivera missed most of last season with a knee injury.
The only other time in 55 appearances this season the 43-year-old closer pitched more than one inning was when he blew a save Aug. 7 against the Sox and wound up getting six outs.
"There are some situations that I have to do it. Tonight was one of those nights," Rivera said. "We had a lead and had to hold it. We need to do whatever it takes."
Sabathia had his best outing in a month and improved to 19-4 in 33 career starts against the White Sox, the lowest-scoring team in the American League this year.
Cano hit Johnson's 12th pitch to right field for his 203rd career home run, moving ahead of Hall of Famer Bill Dickey for 15th place on the franchise list.
Alex Rodriguez singled to start the fourth, and Johnson hurt himself with a bad throw. He shattered Ichiro Suzuki's bat on a slow roller, then babied his soft throw to first base. Jeff Keppinger failed to scoop it, and Suzuki was safe on Johnson's error.
"It was just a tough bang-bang play and I just rushed it," Johnson said. "That kind of opened up the rally."
Overbay hit an RBI double and Gardner tripled to deep left-center before scoring on Cano's two-out infield single, a comebacker that deflected off Johnson's glove.
Alfonso Soriano added a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
Notes: The Sox's Dayan Viciedo lost his bat on a second-inning swing and it snapped on a railing six rows behind the Sox dugout. ... Semien singled in his first career at-bat. He and Johnson were teammates on the 2011 California team that went to the College World Series after overcoming budget cuts that targeted the baseball program for elimination. Semien was drafted by the Sox four rounds after Johnson.