By Erik Boland
---- — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Alfonso Soriano’s 37-year-old arms have provided some needed punch in the month he’s been with the Yankees.
His legs, not what they once were but still capable, gave the club a huge lift yesterday.
The outfielder stole third in a daring attempt after a one-out double in the 11th inning, a play that led to the winning run, and had everyone talking, in the Yankees’ 3-2 victory over the Rays in front of a sellout crowd of 34,078 at Tropicana Field.
“That was amazing,” said Robinson Cano, who went 3-for-5 with a homer and two RBI. “That was the game.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon agreed.
“We just can’t permit the stolen base at third,” he said. “That’s really what caused the win for them.”
Soriano started the deciding rally against Rays’ righthander Jamey Wright with a double down the left field line.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave Soriano, who three times has surpassed 40 stolen bases in a season but not since 2006, the green light. With Curtis Granderson at the plate, Soriano took off first pitch and made it, just beating the catcher’s throw as he slid in. Granderson’s long fly ball to center brought Soriano in to make it 3-2.
“Not really a good jump,” said Soriano, who later admitted “I don’t have the speed I used to have.”
Girardi, not yet with a sense of Soriano’s speed having only managed him about four weeks, didn’t have an initial positive reaction upon seeing the jump.
“I kind of went, ‘uh-oh,’” Girardi said. “But he’s a base stealer, he doesn’t have fear and he has an idea of what he’s doing.”
And a plan.
Soriano, who went 2-for-5 in the game, said he planned to watch a pitch or two before stealing. But he changed his mind when Wright looked back at him twice before throwing his first pitch to Granderson.
“When he looked twice I changed my mind to go because most pitchers, they don’t look three times,” Soriano said. “When he looked twice and he looked home I just took off. Ninety-nine percent when they looked twice, they’re going home.”
It was Soriano’s 14th stolen base of the season — and fourth since joining the Yankees July 26 — but the outfielder said he’s still confident in his ability to take one in a big spot.
“I like to steal, that’s my game,” he said. “And that was a very important bag to help the team win. I love to do that. I love to steal bases in certain situations when the team needs it.”
The victory was one the Yankees (69-61), while not quite in must-win mode, still desperately needed.
They avoided a three-game sweep and head north to Toronto to face their 2013 personal punching bag, the Blue Jays, against whom they’re 11-1 this season.
“We needed a win so bad,” Cano said. “The last thing you want is to get swept here. We fought the whole game.”
And got contributions from much of the roster in winning inside Tropicana Field for only the sixth time in their last 22 tries.
After Granderson’s sacrifice fly, Mariano Rivera, in what likely was his final appearance in this building, pitched a scoreless bottom of the 11th to record his 38th save.
He was not the only reliever to shine as David Robertson pitched perfect eighth and ninth innings and Boone Logan came in with a runner on and one out in the 10th to get a double play, the fourth turned by the Yankees in the game.
Ivan Nova, shaking off an erratic first inning, pitched a strong 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and six hits. The righthander did walk six but induced three of the double plays.
“A lot of big performances out of a lot of people today,” Girardi said. “That’s a great team win.”