Soriano’s legs help Yanks avoid sweep

To be honest, I contemplated getting on Alfonso Soriano’s case for styling when he hits a long drive instead of running hard out of the box in the event the ball does not clear the fence. Robinson Cano has a history of doing the same thing.

But how dumb would that have looked on the day the Yankees won an 11-inning game because of Soriano’s legs and Cano’s sizzling bat?

Soriano’s base running Sunday helped the Yankees to a 3-2, 11-inning victory over the Rays that avoided a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field. He ran hard from the box to second base to get a one-out double off Tampa Bay righthander Jamie Wright and even harder to third base for a key steal that made it possible for him to break the tie on Curtis Granderson’s flyout to right-center that proved a game-winning sacrifice fly after Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 bottom half for his 38th save of the season and career No. 646.

Regular readers are aware of my high regard for Soriano, but one element of his game that I find disturbing is his tendency to hot dog it at the plate when he hits a ball into the air and deep. If the ball goes over the fence, fine. When it doesn’t, which was the case in one of his at-bats Saturday night, it is an embarrassment if Soriano is unable to take the extra base because he was too late to move into high gear as a runner.

Considering his speed, Soriano should never look flat-footed on the field. He certainly did not look that way in the 11th inning Sunday. This was a big victory for the Yankees, who are in a positive frame of mind heading to Toronto for a three-game set against a club they have beaten in 12 of 13 previous meetings.

Cano, who was 1-for-8 in the first two games of the series, both losses, broke free with his 24th home run, plus a double and a single. He drove in both Yankees runs in regulation. Cano has hit safely in 17 of past 20 games, batting .410 with 11 runs, seven doubles, three home runs and 14 RBI in 78 at-bats.

For the Rays, Evan Longoria was responsible for both their runs as well with an RBI single in the first and his 28th homer in the sixth. It was the seventh homer of the season against the Yankees by Longoria, who is batting .299 with four doubles and 12 RBI in 64 at-bats against them this year. The homer was the 23rd of Longoria’s career against the Yankees, the most he has off a single club.

The Yankees had confidence that Ivan Nova would help them avoid a sweep by the Rays. And why not? Nova was on a personal three-game winning streak and along with Hiroki Kuroda has been a very reliable arm in the rotation.

Nova did a commendable job and kept the Yankees in the game during his 6 2/3 innings. At the outset it appeared it might be a miserable day for the Yanks. Tampa Bay scored in the first inning and threatened to add on by loading the bases with none out. Nova was still trying to get control of his breaking ball, but the first indication that his sinking fastball would be a major weapon for him was when James Loney swung late on a 94-mph heater and hit a ground ball to third baseman Mark Reynolds, who began an around-the-horn double play to squash the rally.

Nova continued to have some issues with his curve displayed by his six walks (one intentional), but the sinker remained an ally as the righthander got 14 of his 20 outs on ground balls. Only two outs were recorded in the air. Nova also struck out three batters and got an out from his catcher, Chris Stewart, who caught a base runner attempting to steal second (Stew got a second one after Nova came out of the game in the seventh).

The Yankees had the leadoff hitter reach base in the eighth and 10th innings but did not capitalize. In the 10th, Alex Rodriguez got the first pinch hit of his career (in 15 at-bats), but he ended up being doubled off second base. The double play proved more an ally for the Yankees, who turned four of them in the game.

The bullpen did a magnificent ensemble job. Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan (4-2) and Rivera combined for 4 1/3 hitless innings. Only one of the 12 Tampa Bay hitters faced by the Yanks’ relievers reached base, on a one-out walk by Chamberlain in the 10th, and he was erased on a double play.

So off to Toronto go the Yankees where their captain, Derek Jeter, will be waiting to rejoin them.

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