Wells proves to be big hit on big stage
New Dodger invigorates club with pitching, stunning bunt
NEW YORK -- OK, can he do it again?That's about the only question unanswered after David Wells returned to the Big Apple on Sunday night, took center stage on national television and drew rave reviews, the way stars do around here. The Dodgers gave him Brett Tomko's fifth-starter job figuring they had nothing to lose and he got them a 6-2 win over the Mets in his debut. It was revival night for Wells, but new teammate Jeff Kent wasn't in the celebrating mood. He took a 91-mph John Maine fastball on the left earflap leading off the fourth inning. He remained on his feet but was taken out of the game and sported a welt around his sideburn. "I'll be all right," said Kent, who was light-headed but hopeful he would be able to play Monday night. "It was scary," said manager Grady Little, who also was hopeful Kent would not miss a start. The departure of the cleanup hitter from the batting order didn't faze Wells. No dummy, he did his homework on the Dodgers' offense and took the bat into his own hands, dropping a perfect bunt single, chugging to first and triggering a two-run fifth inning that turned the game around. He scored the tying run, the Dodgers took the lead and pulled away with a three-run sixth inning. "The first two games here, I saw what happened," the career .117 hitter said of the five runs the Dodgers scored in two losses to the Mets. "I wanted to do anything to spark something and the guys followed suit. I'm the last guy to bunt, but I got lucky. I had no chance swinging the bat. I saw David [Wright at third base] playing back. It was a perfect bunt." Oh, and Wells pitched, with velocity ranging from 66-mph curveballs to 85-mph cutters. Five innings and he was charged with two runs, although one of them was Jose Reyes brazenly running on center fielder Juan Pierre and scoring from first base on a Wright double to left-center. Wright was 6-for-8 in the series with four walks, three runs and five RBIs. "A new team is expecting you at least, in this case, to be a savior. I'm not that," said Wells. "I just like to pitch. The stage was set, national television and I was ready for the challenge. I was rusty. I never expected to do this well. But it's a big game, give me the ball. I just wanted to keep us in the ballgame." Little said he plans to start Wells Friday night in San Diego against his former team and skip Eric Stults. The victory was No. 236 for Wells, tying him with Whitey Ford on the all-time list. He's 6-1 lifetime against the Mets. In more ways than one, the outing was extraordinary for a 44-year-old who hadn't pitched in three weeks or won since July 16. That said, he did a pretty good job managing expectations by weaving a story of his temporary retirement spent surfing, golfing and just about anything other than pitching. The Dodgers kept pace with first-place Arizona and remained tied with Colorado, 3 1/2 games back in the Wild Card. Equally important was what the Dodgers avoided -- because of Wells' win -- a series sweep by the Mets that would have made for a 2-4 trip, a depressing overnight cross-country flight and another day closer to elimination. "It's a morale booster for sure," said catcher Mike Lieberthal, who came away from Wells' sharp Friday bullpen session unconvinced the big left-hander hadn't visited a mound or two back home. "It's just one start. It's too soon to know how it will go. But from what I saw, if we can get that kind of game from the back end of the starting rotation, the way it's been struggling, who knows what that might mean?" Lieberthal said Wells was sharper during his Friday bullpen session and his pregame warmup than when he was actually retiring the Mets. "His curveball was a little flat and he struggled with it," said Lieberthal. "But he has so many weapons, with the sinker and cutter and changeup. He knows how to pitch." The key at-bat was in the bottom of the fifth inning, minutes after Wells had toured the bases. He got two quick outs, then allowed an infield single to Lastings Milledge and back-to-back walks to Wright and Carlos Beltran to load the bases for Moises Alou. Wells struck out the RBI machine with a 66-mph curveball. "That whole at-bat, I just made up my mind I was sticking with the curve," said Wells, the oldest pitcher to start a game in Los Angeles Dodgers history. Offensively, the Dodgers got three hits and two runs from Rafael Furcal and a pair of hits and RBIs from Pierre and Matt Kemp, the top three spots in the order going 7-for-14.
The key at-bat in the three-run sixth was an RBI single by Luis Gonzalez that short-hopped the wall. Gonzalez was pinch-hitting for Wells.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.