Alex Rodriguez's reaction said it all: His arms were thrust over his head, his fists were pumping wildly and he was howling with glee.
The celebration was richly deserved. The little kid came pouring out of baseball's $252 million man Saturday after he started the spectacular double play that ended the New York Yankees' riveting 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Rogers Centre.
Rodriguez dove to his right to spear Shea Hillenbrand's one-hopper near third base that took what he called a "funky" hop by his ear and fired a perfect strike to Robinson Cano at second. Tino Martinez scooped Cano's one-hop throw to first to end the game and prevent Toronto pinch runner Alexis Rios from scoring the tying run from second.
"To me, it was like hitting a walk-off grand slam. I love it," Rodriguez said. "Guys get on me because I get too excited, but I'm like a 5-year-old kid out there having so much fun. That was fun."
A decidedly split crowd of 43,433 saw the Yankees have far more fun during this taut thriller than they did in surviving Friday's 11-10 slugfest that saw starter Randy Johnson ejected in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes.
Bernie Williams' second-inning single to left drove in Jorge Posada with the game's only run, and starter Shawn Chacon (5-3) threw eight brilliant innings to make it stand up. Chacon scattered four singles and got several five-star defensive plays behind him. Toronto rookie Gustavo Chacin (12-9) went seven innings and was the hard-luck loser.
The Yankees have won six straight, including all five on a road trip that ends in Toronto at 1:05 today (YES). They remained a half-game behind Cleveland in the wild-card hunt and 1 1/2 behind Boston in the American League East.
The twin-killing that ended the game was an appropriate finish to a contest full of great plays by Yankees gloves. The best came in the eighth, when Chacon recorded the first two outs as Cano dove to his right to corral Gregg Zaun's grounder and Hideki Matsui made a diving play in left on Reed Johnson's sinking liner.
"Matsui gets closer and closer, the ball gets closer to him and he makes the catch," Chacon said. "All I can say is, 'Wow.' "
Chacon had the wow factor working himself in a big bounceback from his shortest outing as a Yankee, a three-inning stint Sept. 10 against the Red Sox that saw him give up five runs.
Chacon was 1-2 with an 8.62 ERA over his previous three starts, and his spot in the rotation is shaky at best with Mike Mussina (elbow soreness) set to return Thursday at Baltimore. But Chacon struck out four, walked just one and gave manager Joe Torre plenty of food for thought.
"It was incredible," Torre said. "That whole game was so tense, and Chacon was so terrific."
The Yankees used five relievers Friday after Johnson was tossed, including closer Mariano Rivera for the third straight day. Torre was adamant he didn't want to use Rivera again, so Tom Gordon pitched the ninth for his first save.
But it was hairy. Frank Catalanatto and Vernon Wells led off with singles before Gordon struck out Corey Koskie with a wicked curveball to end a nine-pitch at-bat. Rodriguez then made sure Gordon got his save.
"It was tremendous," Gordon said. "It was just a great player making a great play."
"I had a good feeling about this game," Rodriguez said. "I felt Chacon was always in control, and I felt good when 'Flash' (Gordon) was coming in, too. That's probably the best game we've been involved in this year. Chacin threw the ball great for them, and Chacon was great for us."
Chacon was mired with lowly Colorado the last five seasons and was just 2-20 the last three years with the Rockies until joining the Yankees on July 28. Now he's hoping to get his first taste of October.
"It's a totally different experience," Chacon said. "No disrespect to Colorado, but we were not playing for anything this late. The way the (ninth) inning started and the way it finished, it kind of felt like a playoff game. It's the closest I've gotten so far."