ST. PETERSBURG -- It had been a week since the Yankees were able to gather in the infield and shake hands, so they were going to enjoy this one for all it was worth.
Alex Rodriguez hit a pair of homers and David Robertson pinned the bases loaded in a big spot, allowing the Yankees to finally exhale with a 6-2 victory over the Rays, snapping their six-game losing streak.
"It was huge. It was desperation," Rodriguez said. "We definitely needed to win the game; we haven't won in a while. Hopefully, that's the start of something good."
Rodriguez's second home run off James Shields was a sixth-inning laser that cleared the center-field fence, providing a slim lead, but there could be no guarantees during a stretch when nothing seemed to have gone right.
"It just felt like we needed to win this game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't want to say must-win, but this was as close as you can get to a must-win in the month of May."
Frustration has seeped into the Bombers' DNA of late, and sure enough, the Rays threatened to extend the misery in the sixth, about the time Ivan Nova was slamming his glove into the dugout bench.
Opening the inning by allowing a walk to Ben Zobrist and a single to Johnny Damon, Nova recorded an out and then loaded the bases intentionally for Robertson, who was asked to perform another of his Houdini acts.
He escaped again, striking out B.J. Upton swinging and Casey Kotchman looking with four-seam fastballs that registered 95 and 96 mph, respectively.
"Big situation," Robertson said. "I had to get two outs right there with the bases loaded. I can't let anyone score because we need a win bad. I just gave it everything I had."
"Robertson is a good pitcher," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That was pretty much the turning point in tonight's game, I thought."
Robertson pumped his fist several times and screamed as he bounded off the mound, perhaps the most emotion Robertson has ever shown on a big league ballfield.
"I was a little excited tonight," Robertson said with a grin. "I'll try to keep it inside from now on."
That froze Nova's line at one run in 5 1/3 innings, having been touched only by Elliot Johnson's third-inning homer. Nova walked two and struck out four.
"I won the game and it's important, but my command out there, I don't feel too good about that," Nova said. "I know I can do better than what I showed today."
Rodriguez, meanwhile, has been waiting for his own chance to break out, owning only one previous home run in May -- and that one came last Thursday after enduring a 65 at-bat homerless stretch.
But A-Rod got the Yankees on the board in the fourth, belting a 2-2 Shields pitch into the left-field seats -- proof positive that his time with hitting coach Kevin Long has been worth it.
"Kevin and I have been working over the last week or so to really focus on my bottom half," Rodriguez said. "I'm just having some synergy with the whole body. Today was much better."
Rodriguez added an exclamation mark his next time up with his eighth homer of the season, clapping his hands and flipping them skyward as he rounded first base.
"Sometimes it's just timing," Girardi said. "It seems like he has come off [the ball] a little bit lately. He has been trying to fight through it."
Shields was a tough customer, striking out nine in seven innings, but the Yankees extended their lead in the seventh with two important runs -- one unearned.
Back in the lineup after a loud public fiasco, Jorge Posada ripped a double to right that capped a 2-for-3 night, and Brett Gardner laid down a beautiful bunt single.
Recalled earlier in the day from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Chris Dickerson looped a run-scoring single into center field that made it 3-1.
"It's just one of those days that's a blur," Dickerson said. "It ended up working out very well. It felt a little bit like my first Major League hit."
Derek Jeter followed with a fielder's-choice grounder that second baseman Ben Zobrist threw away for an error, allowing Gardner to scamper home.
Robertson needed a little help of his own, leaving a two-on, two-out jam for Joba Chamberlain in the seventh, but Damon bounced out to end the inning.
New York added a pair of runs in the ninth off Brandon Gomes, coming on run-scoring hits by Gardner and Jeter, and with victory so close, the Yankees needed to close it out.
Amauri Sanit got a chance to get there in the ninth, but Zobrist's two-out RBI double was the last straw. Girardi went to Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation for the 27th out, putting an end to a miserable week.
As they whooped it up in the center of the field, Gardner yelled repeatedly, "We won!" as though this May game had implications of a much later date. And there did seem to be an awful lot at stake.
"I think if we had lost today, we'd probably have had to take the bus all the way up to Baltimore tonight," Gardner said.