Bronx, NY – For the first time since last June, the Tampa Bay Rays are atop the AL East.
Evan Longoria's two-run double highlighted a six-run second inning against CC Sabathia and the Rays held off New York 10-6, to spoil Alfonso Soriano's return to the Yankees.
Jeremy Hellickson won his sixth consecutive decision and James Loney belted a three-run homer and drove in four, as the Rays won for the 16th time in 18 contests and moved a half-game ahead of Boston for first place in the division. Tampa Bay's win, combined with Boston's 6-0 loss at Baltimore Friday night, put the Rays alone at the top of the division for the first time since June 10, 2012.
"I'd like to sit on it for what, 59 days. That would be great," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The pitching has really got us to this particular juncture."
Since June 29 this year, the Rays are 20-3. They were seven games out and in fourth place at the start of this run.
Even the return of Soriano to pinstripes couldn't help the Yankees, who lost for the seventh time in 10 games. Soriano was officially traded from the Chicago Cubs earlier Friday. The Yankees acquired the 37-year-old outfielder in exchange for minor league pitcher Corey Black.
The seven-time All-Star reached the majors in 1999 and spent the first five years of his career with the Yankees before being dealt to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez.
Hellickson (10-3), who allowed four hits and a run over six innings, has a seven-game unbeaten string and has just one defeat in his last 15 appearances.
Sabathia (9-9) continued to struggle against the Rays. The left-hander was pounded for nine hits and seven runs in five frames. He's won just four of his 22 starts against Tampa Bay since becoming a Yankee prior to 2009, going 4-11.
Soriano, who started in left field, went 0-for-5 with an RBI. He had some chances to contribute offensively after the Rays took their big lead. He flied out to center in his first at-bat in the second and then came up with the bases full in the third, but after working the count full flied out to right field to end the frame. In the ninth, he drove in a run with a bases-loaded fielder's choice.
"It's a little different because the old one I used to play second base and the new one I play left field now," Soriano said. "It's hard to get used to, but I'll be ready to play every day hard. Hopefully I'll have a better game than this time."
The Rays used four pitchers in the ninth inning, although it's likely only one would have been necessary. After Cesar Ramos struck out Travis Hafner, the Rays faced trouble.
The Yankees loaded the bases against Jamey Wright before Melky Mesa and Adams had consecutive RBI singles. Jake McGee then faced Soriano, who barely beat out a potential double-play ball that scored Brett Gardner.
Fernando Rodney then retired Stewart on a bouncer to third to nail down his 25th save.
Ben Zobrist doubled to start the second and one out later Yunel Escobar laced a double to left-center for the game's first run. Later in the inning, Sam Fuld's single to the same part of the field plated the second run. Desmond Jennings then bunted for a hit. Catcher Austin Romine tried to make the play to first, but his throw sailed into foul territory and Jose Lobaton, who walked earlier, scored.
Longoria followed with a two-run double to center and Wil Myers tacked on an RBI single.
Romine singled in the first Yankee run in the third.
Loney had an RBI base hit in the fifth and drilled his 10th homer of the year in the seventh, off Adam Warren, to widen the gap to 10-1.
David Adams and Stewart, in a pinch-hit role, drove in runs in the bottom of the eighth.
Hellickson's last road loss came April 25 to the White Sox ... Before joining the Yankees, Sabathia had a 7-1 record with a 2.44 ERA in 11 career starts versus the Rays ... Tampa Bay is a season-high 19 games over .500, reaching that mark for the first time since the Rays concluded the 2011 season 91-71 ... Myers has seven straight multi-hit games, extending a Rays rookie record. The overall club mark is eight by Carl Crawford in 2007 ... The Yankees have hit one home run in their last 12 games ... Hafner is mired in a 2-for-31 slump.