NEW YORK – Jeremy Hellickson retired Yankees newcomer Alfonso Soriano with the bases loaded to preserve an early lead and the streaking Tampa Bay Rays tagged CC Sabathia once again, beating New York 10-6 on Friday night.
The Rays have won 20 of 23 and took sole possession of the AL East lead for the first time since June 10, 2012. Tampa Bay moved a half-game ahead of Boston.
Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Evan Longoria doubled during a six-run burst in the second inning, and James Loney later homered and drove in four runs.
Well-supported all season, Hellickson (10-3) won his sixth straight decision. Fernando Rodney, the Rays’ fourth pitcher in a three-run ninth, got the last out for his 25th save.
Trying to add power, the Yankees acquired Soriano from the Chicago Cubs before the game, trading minor league pitcher Corey Black to get the seven-time All-Star, along with nearly $17.7 million to cover much of his rich contract.
“We’ve obviously been trying to improve our offense, to no avail, throughout this season,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said. “By far he is the best available bat to date.”
Soriano outhomered the Yankees by himself (10-8) in the four weeks prior to the deal. Overall, the 37-year-old was hitting .254 with 17 homers and 51 RBI with the Cubs.
The Bronx Bombers led the majors with 245 home runs last year, but have become the Bronx burn-outs this season, ranking next-to-last in the AL with only 88.
Before the game, Soriano took a look around Yankee Stadium and broke into a big, familiar smile.
“This is my house, this is my home,” he said. “I’m happy I have the opportunity to come back to New York — 10 years.”
Soriano, who hit in the cleanup spot and played left field, got his chance to make a sudden impact, batting with the bases loaded and two outs in the third and the Yankees trailing 6-1.
With Tampa Bay’s infield overshifted to the left side, he ran the count full before lofting a routine fly to right that ended the inning.
Soriano, who began his career with the Yankees in 1999 and drew a big ovation in his return, went 0 for 5, scored once and drove in a run. He got an RBI with a bases-loaded forceout in the ninth.
Soriano did more on defense, catching a fly to start the game, making a throw that helped nail a runner and running down a foul ball.
Hellickson gave up one run and four hits in six innings, retiring his last nine batters and sending the Yankees to their seventh loss in 10 games. He also flashed a fast glove, snaring Ichiro Suzuki’s liner right in front of his face.
Sabathia (9-9) was booed early and was hit hard for the third straight start, allowing 22 runs over 14 innings in that span. He got a true Bronx cheer when he struck out Loney while escaping a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third.
The Rays have been particularly prickly for Sabathia. He is just 4-11 in 23 starts against them, including four this season, since joining the Yankees.
Loney had an RBI single in the fifth and hit a three-run homer in the seventh off Adam Warren that made it 10-1.