Rays manager Joe Maddon noticed the difference in the Yankees — well, right from the start.
Derek Jeter returned to New York's lineup Sunday and homered on the first pitch he saw from Matt Moore, and the Yankees avoided a three-game sweep by Tampa Bay when Alfonso Soriano hit a game-ending single in the ninth inning for a 6-5 victory.
"Derek provided a lot of spark for them," Maddon said.
The Rays fell behind quickly but rallied to tie it at 5 behind Will Myers' two home runs and four RBIs against Phil Hughes. They just couldn't push a run across in five innings against New York's bullpen.
Tampa Bay lost for only the fourth time in 25 games. The AL East leaders are 7-2 on a 10-game road trip against division foes heading into a makeup game Monday in Boston.
"It's a tough loss. You always want to win," Myers said. "We're looking forward to going to Boston tomorrow and get the win."
Jeter was activated from the disabled list for the second time this month and connected against Moore, sending a drive to right-center that ended the Yankees' nine-game homerless drought. The captain went 2 for 4 and scored twice.
"He's the face of the organization," Soriano said. "When he's on the field we can feel the energy."
Playing with Jeter for the first time since being reacquired by New York from the Cubs on Friday, Soriano homered among his first four hits with the Yankees this season and drove in three runs.
Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk from Jake McGee (2-3) in the ninth. McGee then switched belts on his uniform before facing Jeter, threw a wild pitch and received a visit from Maddon.
The decision? Walk Jeter intentionally.
"I just told him, I said, 'We're going to get a double play out of (Robinson) Cano,' which we didn't, we got a strikeout. I said after that, 'Then we'll deal with Soriano,'" Maddon said.
After Cano struck out, Soriano singled to center field to win it. He was mobbed by teammates and doused with liquid during a postgame interview.
"Hoped he hit a groundball, got a groundball. Just not in the right spot," McGee said.
On the belt, McGee said: "It happened like second or third pitch during the at-bat. I felt it break," McGee said. "I like having the belt pretty tight so it stretches a little bit."
Mariano Rivera (2-2), the Yankees' fourth reliever, got three groundouts in the ninth.
Ichiro Suzuki had four hits and drove in a run on fellow Japanese star Hideki Matsui's bobblehead day. Matsui, who played briefly for the Rays, signed his retirement papers in an on-field ceremony in front of the third sellout at Yankee Stadium this season before the game.
Jeter's homer was the Yankees' first long ball by a right-handed batter since June 25, and his presence appeared to give the team an immediate lift.
"I just wanted to get a pitch to hit," Jeter said.
After he homered and gave a quick wave of his cap from the dugout steps, Cano singled and Soriano followed with his first hit for New York in nine at-bats this year. Vernon Wells had a sacrifice fly and Suzuki hit an RBI single to make it 3-0.
Jeter started at shortstop for the first time this season. He was the designated hitter on July 11 when he returned from rehabbing the ankle he first broke during the opener of the AL championship series in October. He was sent right back to the disabled list when he strained his right quadriceps running out a grounder. The Yankees won just four of 12 during his most recent absence.
"It was fun — I'm tired," Jeter said. "I worked hard to try to get back on the field."
Kelly Johnson, who drove in the run in Tampa Bay's 1-0 win Saturday, pulled the Rays within two on a double in the second, and Tampa Bay took the lead in the third.
Evan Longoria and James Loney singled with one out, then Myers laced a shot to deep left for a 4-3 edge.