NEW YORK -- Following the Yankees' loss to the Rays on Thursday night, Andy Pettitte was asked what separated great teams from the merely good.
"Timely hitting," Pettitte said quickly, and then he thought for a second. "To be a great club, you've got to have a great bullpen, that's for sure. That's always been what's separated us."
The sudden unreliability of that Yankees bullpen was perhaps the most flummoxing cause of the club's recent hiccup. After all, poor starts from Pettitte, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes were to be expected over the course of a 162-game season. But a grand slam off Mariano Rivera? Blown eighth-inning leads on three consecutive nights? Seventeen runs allowed in the eighth inning alone over five days?
Those were never really part of manager Joe Girardi's itinerary.
In Friday night's 2-1 win over the Mets at Citi Field, however, the Yankees' bullpen got back on the horse, and the effort was led by Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain entered in the seventh inning with two runners on and his team clinging to the 2-0 lead it had just built against the Mets' bullpen. He also entered having given up seven runs (six earned) in his past 1 2/3 innings, seeing the ever-volatile ERA of a reliever climb from 2.16 to 4.91 in two appearances. But Chamberlain looked as good as ever against the Mets, striking out David Wright and Angel Pagan to end the seventh before setting down the 7-8-9 hitters with a 1-2-3 eighth.
Chamberlain's recent woes had primarily been caused by an inability to command either his fastball or slider. On Friday, the right-hander had both in his arsenal. He got Wright looking at a 3-2 fastball on the outside corner, then doubled up with the slider on Pagan, getting him to chase it on another full count. Chamberlain punched out Rod Barajas with yet another slider leading off the eighth.
"I had good feel of it," Chamberlain said of his slider. "I could throw a couple of different sliders, and I understood what I needed to do."
Despite the efforts of Chamberlain, the Yankees' bullpen didn't emerge completely unscathed. Rivera allowed back-to-back two-out doubles in the ninth to plate the Mets' lone run of the night, marking the third straight appearance in which he's yielded a run -- the first time the closer has had a streak like that since August 2007.
"The velocity is there -- it's just tightening it down," Girardi said of Rivera. "He got the first two outs and got ahead, and missed his location. Am I concerned? No. His control is usually pinpoint. It just hasn't been pinpoint the last few times out."
In the end, though, Rivera did earn a save -- his first in 21 days. In doing so, he ended his longest streak without a save since he went barren for 27 days in May 2007. Watching Rivera close the game was a most familiar and pleasant sight for Pettitte and the rest of the Yankees; that great bullpen that has separated them from the pack for 15 years provided the distance between themselves and the Mets on Friday night.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.