NEW YORK - Not every game is going to be an oil painting for Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, but in the challenging American League East, first place is first place.
The Rays moved into first place with what Maddon described as a rugged 10-6 victory over the New York Yankees Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
"It's not always an oil painting, " Maddon said. "I talked about that before. It's not always an oil painting and you got to live with it. I'm somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to doing things the right way on the field and of course we've been doing that up to that point.
James Loney drove in four runs all coming after the Rays scored five of their six runs in the second inning against CC Sabathia (9-9). His runs became necessary as the Rays dragged the win out by allowing five runs and seven hits over the final two innings, forcing Fernando Rodney to come in for a one-out save.
Once Rodney retired Chris Stewart for his 25th save, the Rays had sole possession of the division lead for the first time since June 10, 2012. Tampa Bay won for the 20th time in 23 games and improved the major league's best record to 47-24 since May 8.
"Nevertheless you don't want an under duress moment after you're up 10-1 and have to sweat one out, that's not cool," Maddon said. "Tonight might have been one of those rugged games, but we'll take it."
Evan Longoria highlighted Tampa Bay's six-run inning with a two-run double, continuing his personal dominance against the Yankee left-hander. Yunel Escobar added an RBI double while Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings and rookie Wil Myers produced run-scoring singles.
Tampa Bay's second-most productive inning in terms of hits and runs gave them a 61-42 record. They were 38-37 and six games behind the Red Sox following a 7-5 loss in New York on June 22.
"We're just having fun here," Myers said. "Everybody's doing their job. We're pitching and hitting well."
"Of course there's satisfaction in it, but there's no complacency in it either," Maddon said. "It's going to be a while. There's a couple of months left and they're really good but it's always good to validate what you have been doing to get to the particular point."
The Rays' latest victory gave starter Jeremy Hellickson his career-high sixth straight win and eighth since June 2. It came on a night where Maddon thought he could have been more efficient with his 102 pitches but aided by strong off-speed stuff, he held the Yankees to one run and four hits in six innings.
"He should have pitched deeper into that game," Maddon said.
Hellickson recorded 13 of 18 outs on off-speed pitches and his biggest out was likely the 3-2 changeup to Alfonso Soriano with the bases loaded in the third. Soriano swung at the pitch and the Yankees wound up with one run when he flied out to medium range right field.
"That's all that matters," Hellickson said. "It's not hard to win games when I'm getting eight, nine and 10 runs per game, credit to the offense.
Sabathia lost his third straight decision and allowed seven runs in three straight starts for the first time in his career. He lasted five innings, allowing seven runs and nine hits.
"He was up tonight," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "That was the problem in the second inning. He was up in the zone and they didn't miss it."
The Yankees officially added Soriano in a trade from the Chicago Cubs following a week of speculation. Soriano went 0-for-5 with a run-scoring groundout in the aborted comeback during the ninth
NOTES: Yankees GM Brian Cashman offered a series of no comments when asked about the latest developments in the Alex Rodriguez saga. All he said was that on Saturday, Rodriguez will do conditioning work, defensive drills and tee and toss in Tampa Bay. ... Soriano was acquired according to Cashman because he was the best available bat at the present time, though hints emerged that more bats could be obtained before Wednesday's non-waiver trade deadline. ... SS Derek Jeter will not return Saturday as after the game, the team announced he will participate in a simulated game with details to be announced. ... Myers made his third career start as a designated hitter while Longoria batted second for the second time this season. ... To make room for Soriano, the Yankees optioned OF Thomas Neal to Class AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. ... Tampa Bay officially announced that LHP David Price will start Monday's makeup game in Boston. ... The Rays employed a shift where three infielders were on the left side for Soriano's at-bats.