ny timesApril 1, 2005Wells's First Start a Study in ContrastsBy JACK CURRY
ORT MYERS, Fla., March 31 - David Wells still cares deeply about New York, the Yankees and their fans, especially the ones hanging out in right field. Perhaps Wells, the chubby, carefree pitcher who is in the new position of being on the other team, with the Boston Red Sox, cares more than a tough guy would ever want anyone to detect.
When Wells envisions facing his beloved Yankees at the Yankee Stadium he reveres on Sunday night, he wonders how he will be greeted. It is important to Wells that the fans offer him a vocal hug to show that he remains one of their homeboys.
"I'm the same guy, just a different uniform," Wells said. "Hopefully, they won't treat me any different than when I was in any other uniform."
But Wells may want to spend a minute recalling how the tense Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has unfolded recently and ponder the immediate future again. As much as Wells has immersed himself in Yankees history, with his passion for Babe Ruth and anything pinstriped, the B on his cap could destroy his status as a visiting cult hero.
"It's going to be different," Boston second baseman Mark Bellhorn said. "It's going to be interesting for him."
It is already different, a weird different. Of all the pitchers who could have shown up in the Bronx to christen the first game after the Red Sox shocked the Yankees with the greatest comeback in postseason history, then won their first World Series title since 1918, it will be Wells. Put Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield or Bronson Arroyo against Randy Johnson, who is making his debut in the rivalry, and it would feel more normal. But, for Yankees loyalists, watching Wells on the Red Sox is seeing a player who bellowed the longest and loudest about being a real Yankee and is now the anti-Yankee.
Even as Wells was considering Boston's two-year offer that could be worth $18 million last December, he made one final call to General Manager Brian Cashman to find out if the Yankees wanted him back. The Yankees, who were perturbed after Wells broke an oral agreement to sign with the San Diego Padres a year earlier, told him no. Any hopes of a Boomer Bash, Part 3, were bagged.
"It's not strange, but it's going to be different," said Wells, repeating the ubiquitous word again. "I was tied up in the rivalry on the New York team, and now I'm on Boston and going back into New York. I've never seen that side."
Mike Torrez did. So did David Cone. Now it is Wells's turn to experience the contrasting sides of baseball's 206-mile backyard feud. Wells is starting the opener because Schilling is recovering from ankle surgery, meaning the Red Sox have temporarily given Wells a title he rarely received as a Yankee: staff ace.
"He's one of the premier left-handers in the league, still," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "It doesn't matter where he came from."
Wells comes from a world where an almost 42-year-old with a slow-pitch softball player's physique, a rebellious attitude and a motoring mouth is usually allowed to do and say what he wants because of his rubbery arm. Wells can annoy his employers, but his precise pitching usually rescues him.
The final image of Wells with the Yankees was of his leaving the fifth game of the 2003 World Series after eight pitches with back trouble that he had not told the team about. Before that, Wells was 68-28 as a Yankee and 44-18 at the Stadium. He has a 10-3 record in the postseason.
"His arm is just unbelievable," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "He's just gifted."
Now Wells is in a clubhouse filled with self-described idiots, a clubhouse he called the loosest he has encountered. The playpen was as its rollicking best Wednesday as Manny Ramirez and Edgar Renteria listened to salsa music in one corner while other players blasted heavy metal. The cacophony sounded as if a boom box were stuck between radio stations with the volume on 11.
Naturally, Wells bounced through the din as Rob Zombie shrieked: "Dead, I am the one, exterminating son. Dead, I am the sky, watching angels cry." Those headphones Manager Joe Torre made Wells use will stay in storage this year.
Wells called his 7.94 earned run average this spring meaningless. He explained that he had spent the first few starts trying to find a release point, struggled to get comfortable and uncorked an array of flat pitches that hitters hammered.
What mattered, Wells said, is that he threw 80 pitches in his last start and could have pitched longer and that he walked only two in 17 innings. Still, since Wells is being asked to mimic Schilling, at least for a couple of starts, on a team defending a title, the scrutiny will be intense.
"He's definitely a guy who can handle that spot," Varitek said.
Wells said he felt cozy in a championship clubhouse where, he said, "Everyone is talking smack and having a great time." Wells was typically one of the only Yankees talking smack and typically one of the only players Torre reprimanded.
"If you have a bad day, someone is going to ride you about it and get it off your mind so you're not thinking about it," Wells said. "Maybe Kevin Brown wouldn't like it. You know?"
Wells's tweaking of Brown, the loner pitcher, was his first jab at the Yankees. In his autobiography, published two years ago, Wells suggested that he was "half drunk" when he pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in 1998. The Yankees were so disturbed by Wells's words that they fined him $100,000. He issued a statement stressing that he "certainly wasn't drunk," but now, safe from George Steinbrenner's wrath, he flip-flopped.
When Wells was asked if the tale in the book was accurate, he said: "Why would I lie? I'm not going to lie just to sell a book. Why make it up? If you can't speak the truth, why speak at all?"
Why speak at all? That is a question the Red Sox might ask Wells once or twice this season, a question that Wells might ask himself. Wells watched only Game 7 of the American League Championship Series last year, but he was amazed at what the Red Sox, who are now his Red Sox, did in erasing a 3-0 deficit.
"It's pretty much an impossible thing," said Wells, who went from Boomer to Berra by adding, "But they say anything's possible."
The last time Wells pitched at the Stadium, 10 months ago, he was on the Padres and he nearly cried before he flipped his first pitch. Wells received a rousing ovation, and it jarred him.
"It was very emotional because it's a place where I wanted to be and I love," Wells said. "When you have that kind of love for a team and a city and you go in there and they embrace you, it's an unbelievable feeling."
It could be different on Sunday, different forever now. Wells, who always longed to be Mr. Yankee, is on the Red Sox.