NEW YORK -- Joba Rules were made to be broken.
Toronto was threatening in the eighth inning, pulling within two runs and putting two men on. Even though Yankees manager Joe Torre had said Joba Chamberlain was unavailable, the sellout crowd of 54,983 started chanting "We Want Joba!"
Chamberlain jogged in from the bullpen on his 22nd birthday, threw five nasty sliders to strike out Adam Lind, then followed with a perfect ninth inning. With his first major league save, the rookie sensation preserved New York's 7-5 victory over the Blue Jays and Mike Mussina's 250th big league win.
Harlan Chamberlain, the reliever's polio-stricken father, watched from his motorized scooter and remembered back to his newborn son's bassinet at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb.
"Twenty-two years ago today, I put a glove with a Velcro ball in the palm of the glove," he said. "If that glove could have spelled out the future and said 22 years from today, you'll be in Yankee Stadium, I would have thought that was the furthest thing that could ever happen," he said.
New York, close to clinching its 13th consecutive playoff appearance, pulled within 1½ games of AL East-leading Boston with a week remaining in the regular season. The Yankees overcame a 3-0 deficit and reached 90 wins for the seventh straight year, the third-longest streak in major league history behind the 1947-58 Yankees and 1904-12 Chicago Cubs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Mussina (11-10) won his third straight start since rejoining the rotation; backup catcher Jose Molina had three hits, three RBI, a key tag play and a big pickoff; and Melky Cabrera threw out a runner at the plate for the second straight day, raising his assists total for the season to 16 -- including a major league-leading 14 as a center fielder.
But the electricity was provided by Chamberlain, who has allowed one earned run in 16 appearances since coming up from the minors in early August.
With a 100 mph fastball and a 92 mph slider that drops at the plate like an Olympic diver, he's been unhittable most days. The Yankees have babied him -- the Joba Rules stated he could only enter at the start of innings, he could warm up only once and that he would get at least one day off for every inning he threw. It was as if New York had an elixir it didn't want to dispense too frequently.
He had gone two innings and 30 pitches Friday night. But before Sunday's game, Torre spoke with general manager Brian Cashman and pitching instructor Nardi Contreras to clarify the amendments they all discussed during a conference call Friday.
So rather than bring in Mariano Rivera for the third straight day, Torre got permission to break the Joba Rules -- or rather, set new ones. Starting now, depending on pitch count, Chamberlain can be used in back-to-back games.
"It was great to get that opportunity and to show that I can come back," Chamberlain said. "It's doing me good for situations to where we maybe need to give Mariano a break."
Under Torre, the Yankees have burned out relievers such as Jeff Nelson, Tanyon Sturtze and Scott Proctor. Chamberlain was a starter in the minors, and the Yankees project he'll be a starter next year.
Hence, the restrictions -- which have become so well known in New York that "Joba Rules" T-shirts are on sale.
"We're on the move with this thing. A lot of it is going to be judged on pitch count, and the days off will vary," Torre said. "He just keeps his wits about him. I told him when I shook his hand at the end, I said, `You grew a little bit more today."'
Chamberlain struck out two in the ninth to raise his total to 31 in 21 2/3 innings. He got the game ball and planned to give it to his father, who has a bookcase in his garage that will be moved to the living room to give the ball a proper display.
New York won for the 14th time in 17 games, remained 5½ games ahead of Detroit in the wild-card race and lowered its magic number for clinching a playoff spot to two.
Molina, starting after Jorge Posada caught consecutive extra-inning games, singled in the Yankees' first run in a three-run second that tied the score 3-all. He picked off Alex Rios at first base in the third with a perfect snap throw, then got credit for the tag in the fourth, when John McDonald singled up the middle with two outs and Gregg Zaun tried to score from second.
Cabrera's throw was slightly off line and Molina swiped his glove at the sliding Zaun, whose helmet tumbled off. Plate umpire Derryl Cousins called Zaun out -- replays were inconclusive.
"I don't think he tagged me," Zaun said, "and I know I touched home plate. Derryl thought he did tag me."
New York took a 6-3 lead in the fifth against Dustin McGowan (11-10) on RBI singles by Robinson Cano, Doug Mientkiewicz and Molina, who added an RBI double in the seventh off Josh Banks that made it 7-5.
"He was the difference," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
- Mussina allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings, improving to 23-11 against Toronto.
- Stairs reached 20 homers for the sixth time, the first since 2003 with Pittsburgh.