Yankees 2, Orioles 1

He was rescued from the scrap heap that is the Colorado Rockies with a midseason trade, but in a sense it was he who rescued the team from the Bronx, the one with the championship banners and the Hall of Fame players. He was just Shawn Chacon, a middling pitcher with an unimpressive array of pitches on a last-place team in the worst division in baseball who had never pitched in a playoff game or even appeared in a September game that meant anything.

It was plain and simple luck that Chacon landed in New York. With yet another outstanding performance in the middle of a hotly contested pennant race, Chacon helped New York reclaim first place with a 2-1 win Wednesday that also has ensured the Yankees will, at worst, be tied for the lead when they head to Fenway Park for a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox this weekend.

It seems inconceivable that the Yankees have had to rely so heavily on Chacon, who allowed just one run in 62/3 innings Wednesday, when their rotation is filled with so many high-priced, big-name players.

"I'm getting an opportunity to show that I can pitch and pitch in big games," Chacon said. "That's all you can ask as an athlete, a chance to do big things."

It was left to Chacon to try to hold down Baltimore's offense, which scored 17 runs Tuesday. If not for Javy Lopez, perhaps Chacon would have done it completely. The Baltimore catcher's home run to left field in the second inning was the only run that Chacon allowed Wednesday, and the only run he's allowed in the past 221/3 innings.

"Without Chacon and [pitcher Aaron] Small," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said, "we're probably 10 games out."

Early in the game the Yankees could not touch Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, who can be devastating at times. But in the sixth inning, with one out, Rodriguez hit what appeared to be a slider over the outside part of the plate for a line drive home run, his 47th of the season, over the center field wall. As he rounded first, Rodriguez slapped his hands together in celebration, almost in the face of first baseman Chris Gomez, and continued to pump his fist while nearing second base.

"I'm not too sure how many people hit that home run," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "Looked like he was trying to hit the ball the other way, but he's so strong."

It was Rodriguez's first RBI of the game, but second of the night. Before the game Rodriguez was awarded an RBI after the official scorer changed a ruling from Tuesday's game. These slight details could prove important for Rodriguez, who is trying to build a case for the American League's most valuable player award. Wednesday's home run, which put Rodriguez ahead of Joe DiMaggio for most hit by a Yankees right-handed batter in a season, will also help.

A humbled Rodriguez said he lamented not meeting DiMaggio, though he had an opportunity to do so in the late '90s. Both DiMaggio and Rodriguez were members of the same country club and one day the Yankee Clipper showed up. Rodriguez saw him from a distance but hesitated approaching him.

"I kept trying to build the courage to go up to him," Rodriguez said. "But I couldn't build up the courage to bother him."

New York took a 2-1 lead in the seventh when Derek Jeter grounded a single past the diving Gomez, scoring Jorge Posada. The Yankees were denied an opportunity to increase their lead when Bernie Williams was called out at home while trying to score on a Rodriguez's flyout. It appeared on replays that home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt made the wrong call.

How improbable to think that the AL East could be decided by just one ground ball single, or a botched call, though nothing will be decided before the weekend series with Boston.

"To think that three games could decide what 159 couldn't is good for baseball," Torre said. "It's not good for my stomach. It's been stressful the whole time. I think we're all waiting for a resolution to this whole thing."

Before the game Torre held a short meeting with his players, which was unusual, since such gatherings usually take place before a series. Torre, usually very open with the media, declined to speak of the specifics. Some speculated it could have been to chastise the team for its 17-9 loss on Tuesday, but Torre said it was not.

"He does a lot of meetings just as a reminder," Jeter said.

At the end of the game it was a familiar name, Mariano Rivera, who pitched the inning. Both Rivera and set-up man Tom Gordon were flawless.

"The toughest thing to do is to get six outs," Gordon said. "It's a tough role. Mariano has mastered it. I feel that I still have a long ways to go even though I've been in the game a while."

Chacon had a difficult time leaving the New York clubhouse after the game. He was stopped several times by reporters who requested more interview time. He did not deny one request.

"It's everything that I thought it would be," Chacon said, "from pitching in Yankee Stadium to being in the pennant race. There are no surprises."

Only Chacon.

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, right, is greeted by teammate Gary Sheffield after hitting a solo home run off the O's Daniel Cabrera in the 6th inning.Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada celebrate the pitcher's 43rd save.