Alfonso Soriano, acquired earlier in the day to give the Yankees some punch, spent most of the early innings Friday night chasing down base hits and long drives to left that CC Sabathia allowed to the Rays.
The Yankees were down by six runs before Soriano even had the first at-bat of his second stint in pinstripes. They went on to a disheartening 10-6 loss before 44,486 at Yankee Stadium as the Rays, who have won 20 of 23, moved into first in the AL East.
"I expect him to dial up a really good start,'' Joe Girardi had said of Sabathia (9-9), who did the opposite. He allowed six runs in the second inning and seven overall in five innings.
After the second, Sabathia had allowed 21 runs (16 earned) in his past 11 innings with 23 hits and five walks. His ERA is 4.65.
"It's tough," Sabathia said. "Especially since we've been battling and we're right in the middle of this thing. I feel like if I could help us out, we'd be doing a lot better. Getting no help from me is making it tough."
Girardi, asked if he remembers seeing an ace struggle this much, said: "It's pretty rare. You don't see it as often, as good as he's been. It's just really shocking what he's going through."
Sabathia's struggles took some of the steam out of the return of Soriano, 37, who went 0-for-5 with an RBI and a run after waiving his no-trade clause.
"It was a good day for me today to put the uniform on again," he said. "I hope that we have a better game next time."
Soriano was penciled into the cleanup spot for the Yankees, who sent Class A pitcher Corey Black to the Cubs. Chicago agreed to pay $17.7 million of the $24.5 million Soriano is owed in 2013-14, according to ESPN.
Soriano hit .254 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs for the Cubs. He has outhomered the Yankees 8-7 in July. The Yankees haven't had a homer from a righthanded hitter since Jayson Nix on June 25.
Brian Cashman indicated that more bats could be on the way via the trade market, but it won't matter much if Sabathia doesn't regain his ace status.
After a 1-2-3 first inning with two strikeouts, Sabathia allowed six runs, six hits and a walk in the second. Austin Romine's throwing error didn't help, but all six runs were earned. Five of them scored with two outs; in all, the Rays scored eight two-out runs.
"That's the frustrating part," Girardi said. "You can live with giving up one. You can live with giving up two. But when it's a six-spot, that's pretty difficult."
Ben Zobrist led off with a double to left-center. Soriano ran down a long drive to the warning track in left-center by Sean Rodriguez before Yunel Escobar doubled to -- you guessed it -- left-center for a 1-0 lead.
James Loney (three-run homer, four RBIs) popped to short for the second out, but Jose Lobaton walked and No. 9 hitter Sam Fuld singled to left to make it 2-0. Desmond Jennings bunted for a hit and a run scored when Romine threw the ball nowhere near Lyle Overbay at first base.
With runners on second and third, Evan Longoria made it 5-0 with a double to left-center. Wil Myers added an RBI single to left, and the inning mercifully ended when Romine took Soriano's throw home and threw out Myers at second.
Soriano flied out against Jeremy Hellickson (10-3) in his first at-bat as a Yankee since Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. He was traded to Texas in February 2004 in a deal that netted the Yankees Alex Rodriguez, of whom you may have heard.
Soriano wore uniform No. 12 after Vernon Wells agreed to give it up. Wells, who also will be losing at-bats to Soriano, switched to 22.