Struggling ace CC Sabathia pitched effectively into the eighth inning before Rivera earned his first four-out save in more than two years, helping New York hold off the Chicago White Sox 6-5 on Wednesday night for a three-game sweep.
"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. Two outs, three outs, four outs -- whatever it takes."
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 Erik Johnson (0-1), who was making his major league debut.
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.
Next up for New York, an 11-game gauntlet against division rivals Boston and Baltimore -- beginning Thursday night with a four-game set against the first-place Red Sox.
After winning 10 of 12, the last-place White Sox have lost six straight to start a 10-game trip against AL East contenders.
Cano finished with three hits and two RBIs.
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.
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.
"I feel he's capable of doing it," Girardi said. "I brought Robertson in for four outs the other night, as well. As much as I can do it, and they're able, I will do it."
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 White Sox and wound up getting six outs.
"We brought in guys who have done the job all year and eventually, we got the job done," Girardi said.
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.
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."
Combined with Semien and reliever Daniel Webb, they made the White Sox the first team this season to have three players make their major 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."
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.
The game began with only three umpires while Bruce Dreckman was treated by Yankees medical staff for a finger injury he sustained away from the ballpark. Dreckman came onto the field for the bottom of the first inning, umpiring at third base. He originally was scheduled to work home plate, but the assignments were rotated before the game. Crew chief Tim Welke moved from first base to home plate. ... Yankees RHP Ivan Nova was selected AL pitcher of the month for August after going 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts. Nova (8-4, 2.88 ERA) pitches Thursday night against Red Sox RHP Jake Peavy (11-5, 3.91). ... Semien singled in his first career at-bat.