A fire in his (big) belly
Wells brings that competitive spirit to Dodgers, and delivers
NEW YORK -- David Wells did what the Los Angeles Dodgers asked him to do and actually a little more.
The Resurrection of Boomer was on at Shea Stadium. For those who had snickered at the Dodgers, for the very act of acquiring the 44-year-old, his performance on Sunday night was not particularly amusing to the New York Mets.
The record will show that Wells limited the Mets to two runs over five innings, and left this contest with a 3-2 lead. He was not unhittable. But he was good enough to put his team in a position to win. The Dodgers took that position and stayed with it, defeating the Mets, 6-2.
For the Dodgers, who had lost three starters to injuries and then seen Brett Tomko go 2-11, the idea of signing Wells was not a particularly high-risk proposition. This was a team sliding further off the pace in the NL West and the NL Wild Card race. If Wells had been bad enough for the San Diego Padres to let him go, on the other side of the argument was the rest of his career, the 235 victories, the reputation as a fierce competitor.
He's "a competitor and he loves pitching in big games and we want to put ourselves in a position where we've got several of those left," manager Grady Little said.
"I've got confidence in the guy. This is David Wells: He'll give up a hit here and there, he'll give up a run here and there, but you look up in the sixth or seventh inning and he's giving you a chance to win the game."
That is almost exactly what happened on Sunday night. The Dodgers might have hoped to get an additional inning or two out of Wells, who had thrown only 48 pitches through the first four innings. But he labored some in the fifth inning, having to eventually escape a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout of Moises Alou.
And he might have been a little more tired than usual, because he went beyond the call of duty in the top of the fifth inning, leading off with a bunt single. It was a very nice bunt on the third-base side, and it caught the Mets so completely off guard that even Wells, with his substantial bulk, was able to easily beat the throw of David Wright. The bunt single set off a two-run inning that gave the Dodgers a lead they would never relinquish.
That bunt epitomized what Little said about Wells as a competitor. But on a heavily humid night in Queens, the hit put Wells on his feet and in motion for another three hitters before he came around to score.
Wells admitted that merely beating out the bunt took something out of him, but it was a small price to pay. "You basically do whatever it takes to win, anything to spark something," he said. "I had no chance swinging the bat. I got lucky."
Back in the dugout, his new teammates were suitably impressed. "Somebody dropped a Rod Carew on me," Wells said with a smile. "That's a compliment."
The bunt was of course a prime topic of postgame conversation, but it was still not the core of David Wells' night at work.
"That bunt doesn't really affect me as much as the way he pitched with the bases loaded in the fifth inning," Little said. "That's what we brought him here for and that's what he did a nice job with.
"The guy was just outstanding out there, with having three weeks between starts. We knew we would get a competitive outing from him. I can guarantee you it won't be three weeks before he pitches again. It'll be more like five days."
That would set up the Padres as Wells' next opponent, the people who just let him go. But this will not be a grudge match. "I can't really fault them, because I wasn't pitching well," Wells said. "It's not their fault. It's mine, 100 percent."
When Wells had joined the Dodgers in New York on Friday afternoon, he was moving into a locker adjacent to Tomko, who was about to move out. Tomko was explaining to reporters how being let go by the Dodgers might work to his long-term benefit if it meant a fresh start elsewhere. And he pointed out that he wasn't being replaced by a nobody.
"It's not like they're bringing in a chump," Tomko said.
Wells heard that, smiled and said: "I've been a chump of late."
Right, but on Sunday night, back under the spotlight, he was no longer a chump. All the reasons to doubt David Wells -- his age, his body type, the way he pitched over his last four starts with the Padres and the fact that by his own admission he spent the last three weeks mostly golfing and surfing -- all of that melted away once Wells took the ball.
He did again Sunday night what he has done for the majority of a long and successful career. He pitched well enough for his team to win. It is distinctly possible that the Dodgers, in desperate need of another starter to stay in the hunt for the postseason, may have looked in precisely the correct direction. One start is not quite long enough for a trend to be established, but for the moment, Boomer is back.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.