Up by nine runs in the late innings, the Tampa Bay Rays wound up needing their closer to finish off this latest victory.
‘‘It’s not always an oil painting,’’ manager Joe Maddon observed.
Masterpiece or not, here’s a portrait of a winning team: From last place a month ago to now leading the tough AL East.
Jeremy Hellickson retired Yankees newcomer Alfonso Soriano with the bases loaded to preserve an early lead and the streaking Rays tagged CC Sabathia once again, beating host New York, 10-6, Friday night.
The Rays have won 20 of 23 and took sole possession of the division lead for the first time since June 10, 2012. Recently seven games behind, Tampa Bay moved a half-game ahead of Boston.
‘‘Of course there’s gratification in it, but there’s no complacency,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘It’s always good to validate what you’re doing.’’
Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and Evan Longoria doubled during a six-run burst in the second inning, and James Loney later homered and drove in four runs as the Rays got way ahead in the seventh.
‘‘We were playing such a great game tonight. Not a good game, a great game,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Unfortunately, we let them up a little.
‘‘You don’t want an under-duress moment after you’re up 10-1 and have to sweat one out,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s not cool.’’
Well supported all season, Hellickson (10-3) won his sixth straight decision. Fernando Rodney, the Rays’ fourth pitcher in a three-run ninth, got the last out for his 25th save.
Mets 11-0, Nationals 2-1 — Ryan Zimmerman homered with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, lifting host Washington over New York for a doubleheader split.
In the opener, Jenrry Mejia pitched seven scoreless innings in his season debut and Daniel Murphy homered twice and tied a career high with five RBIs as Mets rolled. Murphy had two hits for New York in the nightcap and went 6 for 9 in the doubleheader.
Tigers 2, Phillies 1 — Alex Avila’s two-run double in the fifth inning put Detroit ahead, and Doug Fister pitched eight impressive innings in the hosts’ victory over Philadelphia.
Cole Hamels (4-13) was trying to protect a 1-0 lead for the Phillies when he allowed the bottom of Detroit’s batting order to break through. After a one-out walk to Hernan Perez, Ramon Santiago and Avila hit back-to-back doubles.
Marlins 2, Pirates 0 — Henderson Alvarez earned his first National League victory, Giancarlo Stanton hit his 12th homer, and Miami managed another low-scoring victory, beating visiting Pittsburgh.
Jeff Locke (9-3) allowed only one earned run in 6⅔ innings and had a career-high nine strikeouts, but he lost for the first time in his past 10 road starts.
Braves 4, Cardinals 1 — Mike Minor allowed only one run to give Atlanta’s depleted rotation a lift, Jason Heyward homered, and the Braves beat Adam Wainwright and visiting St. Louis in a matchup of division leaders.
Minor (10-5) gave up four hits with no walks in seven innings. His sharp performance came two days after Tim Hudson was lost for the season with a broken right ankle.
Blue Jays 12, Astros 6 — Edwin Encarnacion hit two home runs in one inning, including his sixth career grand slam, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie also went deep, and host Toronto ripped Houston.
Indians 11, Rangers 8 — Ryan Raburn’s three-run homer in the 11th inning off Jason Frasor gave host Cleveland a wild and sloppy win over Texas.
Rockies 8, Brewers 3 — Tyler Chatwood pitched seven strong innings and hit a two-run double to help host Colorado break out offensively in its victory over Milwaukee.
Royals 5, White Sox 1 — James Shields tossed seven shutout innings and rookie David Lough homered and drove in another run to lead Kansas City’s victory in Chicago.