Wells starts farewell tour in Game 2
Big-game lefty savors postseason chance before retirement
SAN DIEGO -- Padres pitcher David Wells will be in his element in multiple ways when he unholsters his 43-year-old arm against the Cardinals on Thursday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at PETCO Park.Wells is an avid outdoorsman, fancies himself a big-game hunter -- he's heading for Africa in the offseason -- and that's precisely why San Diego hired him in late August, for the veteran wields a cool hand under pressure and Game 2 is, well, his biggest game of the year. And possibly his last. Wells is likely to retire after 21 summers in the game, and sunny San Diego is the perfect venue for the man who grew up in Southern California and cherished everything the Padres did. Experience and savvy is why he's here, for the left-hander has appeared in 26 postseason games, sporting a 10-4 record and 3.15 ERA, including a sparkling 5-2, 3.05 mark in eight Division Series tests. Been there, succeeded there. "I'm just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time -- fortunate to have good players, good teams, you know, behind me," said Wells, 1-2 with a 3.49 ERA for San Diego this season after being traded by Boston. "So giving me the opportunity to pitch in the postseason, it's what we play for all year and personally, I love it. I think it's the greatest time of the year, because you're out there. Everything is on the line. Everybody is pouring their hearts out, trying to get to the next level, to the big game." After dealing with a right ankle problem after joining the Padres, then suffering from gout in his right toe recently, Wells says he's healthy and eager for the challenge, motivated perhaps as never before by thoughts of his baseball farewell. Injuries? Pain? He laughs at them. "You find a way to alleviate the pain ... this is where it counts," he said. "I've been the type of player, I'll do whatever it takes to go out, whatever to make a difference." That also means not wimping out facing Redbirds powerman Albert Pujols, despite Pujols' 49 homers, .331 average and savage reputation as a pitcher-killer -- plus another big homer in Game 1. No wiggling of four fingers on this man, even if Padres skipper Bruce Bochy orders the intentional walk.
"I would fight Bruce on the situation," Wells said. "I love pitching to guys like Albert. I get a big thrill out of it. And get the opportunity to get them out, then you got bragging rights. But then again he can change a game with one swing. And that's what you don't want to happen, especially if it's a situation like that."Still, Pujols is hardly the lone force on the Cardinals, and while Tony La Russa's club only won 83 games this season after two consecutive 100-victory campaigns and struggled down the stretch, it is of little consequence. The Redbirds are here -- where it matters, where everything starts from scratch -- and held their Central Division lead despite a rough stretch run while batting .269 overall as a team this year, fourth in the league. "I don't look at their lineup because of Albert," said Wells. "I look at the lineup that can do some damage." For Wells, this is, like he said, "a dream come true" being back with the Padres, a chance to show his respect and admiration for his favorite team, but more importantly, rekindle his old playoff pitching fire and help San Diego advance to the NL Championship Series. "This couldn't be a better time for me," he said. "It's my last year, and going out on top would be a nice way to go, especially in your hometown."
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.