This was not a night blessed with aesthetic beauty, this 5-4 Yankees victory, but there was still a moment of tactical serendipity.

In the sixth inning, as Lyle Overbay stood at first, first-base coach Mick Kelleher pointed out the shallow depth of Houston second baseman Jose Altuve. With one out and the go-ahead run at third base, Kelleher counseled Overbay to be careful not to run into a tag.

The proposed scenario unfolded one pitch later. Ichiro Suzuki slapped a slow roller toward Altuve. Overbay slammed the brakes. Altuve forced a throw to first, which freed Eduardo Nunez to cross the plate before Overbay was tagged out. It was a critical moment in a game marked by drudgery. “You’re going to have to win some ugly ones,” Overbay said.

Robinson Cano homered, and so did Ben Francisco. Otherwise, this was a night for grinding, the sort that arises during the long haul of a 162-game season. The Yankees avoided the embarrassment of surrendering a series to one of baseball’s worst clubs – and nabbed another victory in a one-run game.

The aesthetics count for nothing in the standings. The Yankees (17-10) have now won six of seven on this homestand, feasting on the floundering Blue Jays and the hapless Astros. After resting Thursday, they will face a more passable opponent, when Oakland comes to town for a three-game series.

Their starting pitcher did not dazzle. David Phelps wilted in the fourth inning. He gave away a four-run lead, and left midway through the sixth inning. He kicked himself for fumbling an opportunity, now that starter Ivan Nova on the disabled list with triceps tendinitis.

“I felt like I could have grabbed the reins and taken care of things,” Phelps said. “But that’s baseball.”

Instead, the bullpen handcuffed Houston. Lefty Boone Logan gobbled four outs. David Robertson pitched a spotless eighth, though he experienced some tightness in his left knee, a condition he expects will not prevent him from pitching on Friday. And Mariano Rivera notched his 11th save.

At first, it appeared the Yankees might cruise. Suzuki catalyzed the offense with a leadoff triple in the first. He scored on an RBI single from Jayson Nix.