NEW YORK -- Joe Torre put Bret Prinz in a tough predicament and wound up with yet another reason to believe in him.
Prinz pitched out of a first-and-third, none-out jam in the seventh inning yesterday, preserving the New York Yankees' 3-2 victory over the San Diego Padres. Called up from the minors twice this season, the righthander has gained Torre's trust with seven scoreless outings.
"It just seems that he's really become a very aggressive pitcher in the strike zone," the manager said. "He's not afraid to throw it."
Gary Sheffield put New York ahead with a two-run single in the sixth. Derek Jeter had three hits and Jon Lieber worked out of trouble all afternoon for the Yankees, who improved to 9-2 on their 12-game homestand.
They'll try to end it in style today against former teammate David Wells, who makes his first start at Yankee Stadium since losing Game 1 of last year's World Series.
Sheffield's single to center off reliever Scott Linebrink gave New York a 3-2 lead and sent Padres starter Dennis Tankersley (0-3) to his eighth consecutive loss since his only major league win May 26, 2002, at Milwaukee.
San Diego put runners at the corners in the seventh against Paul Quantrill, and Prinz came in to face the middle of the order. Cleanup hitter Phil Nevin hit a short fly to right, and Sheffield held Mark Loretta at third with a strong throw to the plate. Prinz then got Jay Payton on a foul popup and Terrence Long on a fly to left.
Prinz pumped his fist as he walked off the mound to cheers from the sellout crowd of 54,280. He has struck out nine and allowed only three hits in 9 2/3 innings this year.
"It makes me feel real good to go in there and do the job that was asked," he said. "It feels good to know that you're liked and you have a manager who has confidence in you."
Tom Gordon fanned two in a perfect eighth, and Mariano Rivera got three outs for his AL-leading 26th save in 27 chances. He struck out Brian Giles and Nevin looking with a runner on to end it.
"Our bullpen has been kind of our backbone all year," Alex Rodriguez said.
The Yankees, who own the best record in the majors, have won 15 of 18 overall to open a 3 1/2-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East and are 31-10 following an 8-11 start.
Lieber (5-3) gave up 11 hits but only two runs in six innings, rebounding from a pair of poor starts.
Bernie Williams legged out a double with two outs in the third, moved up on a passed ball, and scored on Jeter's single to make it 1-0. The Padres tied it in the fifth. Loretta doubled, advanced on a fly ball, and scored when Rodriguez couldn't come up with Nevin's slow roller to third for a two-out infield hit.
Rodriguez then leaned into the stands to make a nice play on Payton's popup, ending the inning.
Long singled leading off the sixth and went to third on Ramon Hernandez's hit-and-run single to right. Kerry Robinson followed with a sacrifice fly, giving San Diego a 2-1 lead. Lieber got out of the inning when Sean Burroughs grounded into a double play.
"I think that was probably the biggest play of the game," Lieber said.