For the Mets, this one was about more than just bragging rights -- coming off eight losses in their past 10 games, they needed a win in the worst way. And for Rodriguez, this was about more than adding to his collection of a half-dozen saves -- he needed to justify his existence at a time when he hasn't had many games to close.
So with one out in the eighth inning and the bases loaded in a three-run game, Rodriguez entered to face Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner. He retired them both.
Then Rodriguez came back for the ninth and, despite serving up singles to Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, put an end to more than 3 1/2 hours of topsy-turvy baseball.
"The atmosphere was unbelievable," the Mets' closer said. "And we need to start winning ballgames."
Though Rodriguez discussed those victories in the plural, the Mets were happy to start with one. And this one contained all the ingredients that they will need to reverse the course of their season.
David Wright hit, snapping a 1-for-18 funk and driving in two runs. Jason Bay hit even more, finishing 4-for-4 with three singles and a double. And Mike Pelfrey pitched, straddling the line between adequacy and excellence.
"You've got to give Pelfrey a lot of credit," Yankees starter Phil Hughes said. "He held us down, for the most part. When he's pitching that way, you can't give up runs early. We had an uphill climb from there."
The one run off Pelfrey came in the sixth on a comebacker that the right-hander could have -- should have? -- fielded. Otherwise, Pelfrey shut down one of the game's best offenses, striking out five Yankees, allowing six hits and walking two.
Before this series started, many looked toward Sunday's matchup of Johan Santana and CC Sabathia as the weekend's marquee attraction. But Pelfrey and Hughes -- on this night the former more than the latter -- continue to inch their way into that class.
Consider this -- nine turns through the rotation, Santana is 3-2 with a 3.72 ERA. Pelfrey is 6-1 with a 2.86 ERA. And counting.
"When I show up to the park on the days I'm pitching, I expect to win," Pelfrey said. "I know everybody feels that way about Santana, but I want everyone to feel that way about me."
Across the clubhouse, Bay nodded when he heard that comment.
"He's already got one guy saying that," Bay said.
Pelfrey wants to be known as automatic, much the way that Rodriguez already is.
By the eighth inning, the Mets had scored their four runs off Hughes, thanks in large part to Wright and Angel Pagan. They had survived one harrowing situation, when Jenrry Mejia pitched into and out of a jam in the seventh. And so it was time for Rodriguez.
In front of a sold-out crowd at Citi Field, Rodriguez recorded what felt and sounded like his most relevant outs of the season. Perhaps games against the Phillies are more important. But against their civic rivals, the Mets badly wanted this one.
"We're not desperate at all, so don't bring that word over here," Rodriguez said. "That's a really negative word. We're not desperate. We go out there and enjoy our game, and we're going to try to play the best. It's pretty obvious we're not playing the way we're supposed to be playing. But everything's starting to get better."
Two years removed from collecting a Major League-record 62 saves, Rodriguez has had only nine opportunities through the first seven weeks of this season. He has converted all but two.
Perhaps a few more may lie ahead.
"Any time he comes in, you know the game's over with," said Pelfrey, the individual with the most vested interest in Rodriguez's Saturday performance.
"It's fun watching him," Pagan said. "We're really confident every time he goes out there to get the save. And hey, we got the victory, so that's good. That's good."