"These are the games we need to win," Rodriguez said. "This is kind of a playoff-type game -- great pitching, great defense and bullpen. We knew that one run would probably be the difference."
Coming off a three-game sweep of the Astros in Houston, the Yankees' game plan against the Padres worked, as New York swiped eight bases in nine attempts during the series, including setting up both of its runs on Thursday with aggressive running.
The Yankees also played solid defense and struck out 40 Padres over the three-game set, including 15 on Thursday. With the victory, New York (40-33) moved a season-high seven games above .500.
"We're not quite where we want to be, but we're playing a lot better baseball," manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm pleased with the way the club is winning games, whether they're close or we're scoring a lot of runs."
Cleared to throw 100 pitches for the first time in his Major League career, Chamberlain hit the century mark in memorable fashion. San Diego loaded the bases in the second inning, creating a tough no-out spot for the 22-year-old rookie, but Chamberlain didn't just limit the damage -- he eliminated it completely.
With nowhere to put another Padre, Chamberlain struck out Scott Hairston for the first out. Then the right-hander choked a fastball that squirted past catcher Jose Molina, but the Yankees caught a break when Adrian Gonzalez bolted from third and slid into Chamberlain's legs for the first out. He then struck out Khalil Greene swinging to end the inning.
"You get up in the morning when you're washing your hair and you're brushing your teeth, and you know you're going to have to get yourself out of a jam," Chamberlain said.
Rodriguez said the display was just one more reason to be pleased with the Yankees' plan to transition Chamberlain away from his role as a dominant eighth-inning reliever.
"If you don't have guys like Joba, plain and simple, you're not going to win championships," Rodriguez said. "To be able to get out of a jam with the bases loaded and no outs, you have to have No. 1 stuff to get out of that inning, or you're going to come up with one [run] there. That's huge."
Chamberlain was touched for a run in the fourth, allowing an excuse-me ground-rule double to Tony Clark, but the outburst was quieted when A-Rod threw home to force out Gonzalez at the plate. When Chamberlain recorded the next out, San Diego's lead was to be short-lived.
Facing Padres right-hander Josh Banks in the fifth, Melky Cabrera worked a one-out walk and then stole both second and third before scoring on a Jose Molina sacrifice fly to center field. The Yankees moved ahead in the sixth on Rodriguez's single, coming on the 102nd and final pitch from Banks (2-1) and completing an effort where they manufactured everything they got.
"When you face a good pitcher, you can't just sit around and wait for someone to hit a home run," Jeter said. "It's not going to happen. You have to find other ways to score."
By then, the pitcher of record was not Chamberlain, but reliever Jose Veras, who worked 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, even though Girardi said sentimentally that he would have liked to keep Chamberlain in long enough to get his first victory as a starter.
The clock ran out with two outs in the sixth after Chamberlain struck out Chase Headley swinging on his 100th pitch and saw Girardi start his walk to the mound, pointing to the bullpen.
"I was going to [give] my best effort to be a politician," Chamberlain said. "I understand that it's June and this is my first time getting to 100 in the big leagues. I've learned to be patient."
The idea coming in was to have Chamberlain throw as many as 105 pitches, but with the possibility of a long at-bat against Clark, Girardi said he had no choice but to walk out. The change wasn't well received by the crowd of 54,362, who booed Girardi and then cheered Chamberlain as he doffed his cap.
"I have to do what's best for the organization's interest and the kid's interest," Girardi said. "I knew when I went out there, it wasn't going to be a great reception."
Veras (2-0) proved capable, getting Clark to fly out and then hurling a scoreless seventh to keep the Padres off the board. Kyle Farnsworth worked the eighth around a hit and Mariano Rivera remained perfect by recording his 20th save, striking out the side in the ninth.
"He's just very, very good," Girardi said. "Mo is just Mo. It's what we've all come to expect."
Though they've certainly dominated their NL competition, the Yankees' recent run points directly to the mound. Over the past seven games, Yankees starters have a 1.69 ERA and have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 10 of their past 11 games.
"It starts with our pitching staff," Jeter said. "The pitching staff has done a terrific job -- our starters and our bullpen. We've been swinging the bats well and playing defense, but it usually starts with pitching."