DENVER -- Vernon Wells did damage with his bat and legs, but manning the hot corner while the all-time saves leader was pitching was his biggest thrill Wednesday.
"Playing third base when Mariano Rivera's on the mound, that's most likely never going to happen again," Wells said after the New York Yankees' 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies. "You have fun with this game, and that was one of the cooler moments of my career."
Wells had everything to do with Wednesday being one of his most memorable nights. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning and started the winning rally in the ninth with an infield single.
In the bottom of the ninth, he cleanly fielded Carlos Gonzalez's grounder for the second out, bringing cheers from the New York dugout.
"He was big," manager Joe Girardi said. "The two-run homer and hit that started the ninth, he had a great night."
Wells finished with three hits, and Rivera picked up his 12th save.
With Eduardo Nunez unavailable due to a rib injury, the Yankees had no spare infielders to take over after Travis Hafner pinch-hit for third baseman Chris Nelson in the top of the ninth.
Earlier this season, Girardi watched Wells take grounders at third during batting practice and liked what he saw, so the manager told Wells he was going to play third in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday. It was the first since high school time Wells played anywhere in the infield, when he was put at shortstop.
"It was report-card day, and our entire infield failed," Wells said. "True story."
It worked out fine and made a winner of reliever David Robertson (2-0), who pitched the eighth in his first appearance in a week.
Todd Helton homered for the Rockies, who played another home game in cold, wet conditions.
Heavy rain 90 minutes before first pitch threatened to postpone the game, but precipitation held off through most of the evening.
The moist air did wonders for the pitchers. The teams combined for seven hits in the first eight innings, but both had chances to break a 2-2 tie.
The Yankees finally did when they loaded the bases with one out in the ninth against Rafael Betancourt (1-1). The reliever struck out Travis Hafner before Brennan Boesch hit a hard grounder to third baseman Nolan Arenado and just beat the throw to Helton at first, allowing Wells to score.
"It was close, no doubt about it, but I felt he was out," Helton said of Boesch. "He did a good job getting down the line to make it close. It's a tough call. It's a shame the game had to be decided on a call like that, but I've got to give him credit for being in that situation in the first place."
Yankees starter David Phelps was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh when Nelson doubled to right-center and reached third on Dexter Fowler's second error in as many innings. Nelson was stranded when Ben Francisco grounded out sharply to third.
Phelps, who came in with a 5.02 ERA, allowed just two runs on three hits, walked one and struck out four in six innings.
The Rockies had an opportunity in the eighth. Troy Tulowitzki, out of the lineup with a swollen left adductor, pinch-hit with one out. The first offering from Robertson skimmed off Tulowitzki's back and sent him to first.
Eric Young Jr. pinch-ran and stole second. Jonathan Herrera hit a laser right to second baseman Robinson Cano, and Fowler grounded out to end the inning.
"We're pitching great, (but) we need to score some more runs," Helton said. "Got to tip your cap sometimes to their pitchers, too."
The Yankees made sure right away they weren't going to be shut out. Brett Gardner led off the game with a single and stole second. One out later, Wells laced a fastball into the left field bleachers to give New York a 2-0 lead.
The Rockies got it back in the second. With one out, Wilin Rosario doubled to right-center, and Helton followed with a home run to right to tie it. It was Helton's second home run of the season and his first at Coors Field since June 13, 2012, against the Oakland A's.
Both pitchers settled down after giving up the homers. Phelps set down 14 of the last 16 batters he faced. After the second inning, he allowed only a walk to Fowler, who was erased on a double play.
Colorado starter Juan Nicasio didn't allow a hit the after Wells' homer but left after five innings and 91 pitches. He surrendered just two hits and struck out five but didn't figure into the decision.
"Juan did fine," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Labored a little bit in the first, thought he settled in well and did his job."
Girardi used an unconventional lineup to start, hitting Phelps eighth and rookie catcher Austin Romine ninth. He moved Cano up to second in the order to avoid having three left-handers in a row batting.
"When you got guys nursing some stuff, you have to be creative," Girardi said.
NOTES: Nunez took some ground balls and did some throwing before the game but still felt soreness in his ribs. He will likely sit the entire three-game series against Colorado. "He went out and tried to do some stuff and is not where he needs to be," Girardi said. ... Tulowitzki was out of the lineup for the second straight game. He hoped to start, but Weiss held him out due to the rainy conditions. ... The Rockies honored Rivera before the game, with Helton representing the team. Rivera will retire after the season. ... Yankees RHP Ivan Nova (right triceps inflammation) pitched in an extended spring training game in Tampa and felt good despite some control issues. He had four walks in four innings, but Girardi said his velocity was good in 73 pitches. Nova could come off the 15-day disabled list for a doubleheader in Cleveland on Monday.