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 Sunday.
Soriano stole third after a one-out double in the 11th inning, setting up Curtis Granderson's tiebreaking sacrifice fly, and had everyone talking after the Yankees' 3-2 victory over the Rays in front of 34,078 at Tropicana Field.
"That was amazing,'' said Robinson Cano, who went 3-for-5 with a solo homer and an RBI double. "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, who is hitting .270 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in 28 games with the Yankees, started the deciding rally against righthander Jamey Wright with a double down the leftfield line.
Joe Girardi gave Soriano, who has surpassed 40 stolen bases in a season three times but not since 2006, the green light. With Granderson at the plate, Soriano took off on the first pitch and made it, just beating Jose Lobaton's throw to Evan Longoria. Granderson's long fly to center then made it 3-2.
"Not really a good jump,'' said Soriano, who later said, "I don't have the speed I used to have.''
Girardi, who doesn't have a sense of Soriano's speed yet, didn't have an initial positive reaction upon seeing the jump.
"I kind of went, 'Uh-oh,' '' he said. "But he's a base-stealer, he doesn't have fear and he has an idea of what he's doing.''
Soriano (2-for-5) 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 look twice, they're going home.''
It was only his 14th steal in 21 tries -- and fourth since joining the Yankees July 26 -- but he said he's still confident in his ability to take one in a big spot.
"I like to steal. That's my game,'' said Soriano, who stole 84 bases for the 2001-02 Yankees. "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 Yankees (69-61) avoided a three-game sweep, moved to within 31/2 games of Oakland for the second wild card and head north to Toronto to face their 2013 personal punching bag, the Blue Jays, against whom they're 12-1 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.
Mariano Rivera retired Ben Zobrist, Longoria and Matt Joyce on six pitches in the bottom of the 11th to record his 38th save. David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and ninth 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 62/3 innings, allowing two runs and six hits. He walked 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.''