ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alfonso Soriano didn't have a great jump, but he had the green light. He saw Jamey Wright check him twice at second base, figured the Tampa Bay Rays reliever wouldn't look back again and knew he had enough time once Wright began his delivery.
So Soriano, representing the go-ahead run for the New York Yankees in the 11th inning, took off for third on Wright's first pitch to Curtis Granderson. The veteran outfielder, acquired by the Yankees for his power, showcased his speed, sliding under Evan Longoria's tag.
Soriano's steal set up Granderson's sacrifice fly to deep center field, which brought home Soriano and sent the Yankees to a much-needed 3-2 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Sunday afternoon.
"That's a big play, being able to steal third there. It changes the complexion of that inning," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's a great team win."
The victory snapped New York's two-game losing streak and pushed the Yankees' record since Aug. 4 to 11-4. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, lost for only the third time in its last 11 games. The Rays fell a half-game behind the Red Sox in the American League East pending the result of Boston's Sunday night game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Both teams had plenty of chances to break a 2-2 tie after the sixth inning, but the Rays were done in by double plays and a hitless 4 1/3 innings from the Yankees bullpen.
With New York holding Tampa Bay in check, Soriano essentially created his own scoring opportunity. He lined a double to left field off Wright (2-2) with one out in the 11th before swiping his 14th base of the season and scoring easily on Granderson's flyout.
Wright admitted that, had he stepped off the mound and forced Soriano back to second base, the inning might have been completely different. The Yankees would have needed a base hit to score Soriano, not just a deep fly ball.
"I see a guy slow to home plate, so I just want to make sure that he didn't (use an) inside move," Soriano said. "(Girardi) gave me a green light, and I said I want to see one pitch, what he did at second, but as soon as he looked twice, you're not going to look three times to second. So I said now is a good chance."
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera worked a perfect bottom of the 11th to secure his 38th save of the season. Realistically, the Rays' best chance to sweep the Yankees might have come 10 innings earlier.
Rays left fielder David DeJesus led off the game with a single, moved to second on a walk and came around to score on Longoria's groundball single to left. But that was all Tampa Bay could manage, as Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova escaped the jam on James Loney's inning-ending, double-play grounder.
The Rays grounded into four double plays Sunday, but manager Joe Maddon admitted that first one may have been the most costly.
"It's funny how it happens," Maddon said. "Nova was really a little bit on the ropes. ... and we hit a ground ball right into third base. What are you going to do? But I think right there, had we gotten a couple more runs out of that inning, it could have been a different game."
Instead, Nova went on to finish an unusual but mostly effective start. He walked six and yielded six hits but allowed only two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Tampa Bay's only other run came in the sixth, when Longoria crushed a 2-2 pitch from Nova into the left field stands for a game-tying home run, his 28th on the year.
Boone Logan (4-2) got the last two outs of the 10th inning to earn the win. He was the fifth of six Yankees pitchers.
Meanwhile, the Rays got a solid start from right-hander Alex Cobb, who allowed two runs and struck out five over 5 2/3 innings. It was his third start since suffering a concussion after being hit by a line drive on June 15.
Alex Torres, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney combined to hold the Yankees scoreless for 3 1/3 innings. A double play helped Wright finish off a clean 10th. But the difference between a win and a loss may have been one turn toward second base.
"That's why you dot your I's and cross your T's," Wright said. "That's a tough one, but we'll be fine."
NOTES: The Yankees are expected to activate SS Derek Jeter (strained calf) off the 15-day disabled list before Monday's series opener in Toronto. RHP Preston Claiborne will be optioned to clear a spot for Jeter. ... Rays LHP Matt Moore played catch Sunday after throwing a simulated game Saturday. The All-Star pitcher, 14-3 with a 3.41 ERA this season, said he only felt normal soreness. Moore, who hasn't pitched since July 28 due to left elbow soreness, will pitch in a minor league game Thursday, setting him up to return to the Rays' rotation on Sept. 3. ... Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez was out of the starting lineup Sunday as the team attempts to keep his legs fresh while six straight games on artificial turf. He lined a pinch-hit single to center field to lead off the 10th inning. It was the first pinch hit of his career. ... Rays OF Brandon Guyer (broken right middle finger) began a rehab assignment Sunday with Triple-A Durham. ... Tampa Bay OF Jason Bourgeois cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Durham. ... RHP Jeremy Hellickson will be the only starter making the Rays' one-day trip to and from Kansas City on Monday. The rest of the rotation will remain in St. Petersburg to work out and prepare for a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels that begins Tuesday. ... The Yankees won for only the sixth time in their past 22 games at Tropicana Field.