Padres go to Wells, but come up dry
Lefty solid, but not enough in what could be final start of career
SAN DIEGO -- If there was any business as usual in the Padres' 2-0 loss to the Cardinals in Thursday's Game 2 of the National League Division Series, it was David Wells' start.It may have been his last outing at PETCO Park, and maybe the final one of his career, if the Padres don't win the final three games of the NLDS. Regardless, it was exactly the start the Padres expected out of him, and exactly the one they needed to try to pull the series to a 1-1 tie. Wells tossed five innings, giving up two runs on seven hits, with no walks and two strikeouts. Wells went as long as he did only because Padres manager Bruce Bochy inserted a pinch-hitter in the fifth, looking for some offense. "You saw the way he pitched today," said Padres right fielder Brian Giles. "He has a knack of keeping his team in the baseball games and giving them opportunities to win in October, no matter who he's with. He certainly did that today." The 43-year-old Wells came over in an Aug. 31 trade with Boston for his second stint with his hometown team, when the Padres had their eye on a run to the National League West title. He went 1-2 with a 3.49 ERA in the final month. His record can be somewhat misleading, however. As was the case on Thursday, Wells didn't get much in the way of run support in his short time with San Diego. In three of those starts to end the regular season, Wells allowed two runs or less. The San Diego native made his Major League debut in 1987, and has since built his reputation as being a big-game pitcher, the one whom coaches and teammates want to take the mound in pressure-packed games. Before the regular season came to a close, Wells made a Sept. 30 start in Arizona, his first since being scratched from his previous start with gout in his right foot. Wells didn't allow the Diamondbacks a run over six innings. On the line? A playoff berth. The Padres clinched a spot with Wells' win, and it also put them in position to win the National League West title the following day. Five days later, a defensive miscue on a rundown led to one of the Cardinals runs, but Wells didn't give St. Louis much to work with otherwise, throwing 45 out of his 69 pitches for strikes. Wells plans to retire after the Padres' season ends, but he's hoping that happens later rather than sooner.
"How do I want to be remembered if this is my last game?" Wells said. "Gamer. Bottom line. And I think that you can, if you were to go to any hitter, you know, that I've played against from day one until today, they would say, 'That guy went out there and gave it his all and challenged guys.'"You don't get over 200 wins for pitching around guys. You've got an opportunity to get an out on a good pitch, you might as well do it." Wells has done just that for his 19 big-league seasons, and in his seven previous trips to the postseason, he compiled a 10-4 record with a 3.15 ERA in 16 starts. Not only was Wells big in big games, he has a personality as big as his 6-foot-3, 248-pound frame to match it. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, in the visitor's dugout for this NLDS, has seen Wells from the beginning of his impressive career. "I remember when he was young and crazy in Toronto," La Russa said. "And then I've watched him mature over the years, and he's still -- he's got a lot of life, but early on, you know, he had a lot of talent and a little wild and woolly, but he's a better pitcher than people thought.
"Over the years, he's become a good pitcher. He has a feel for what he does out there. That postseason record is no accident. He's got a lot of cool."There's not many that bold in that way, pitcher or personality." La Russa's team narrowly got the better of Wells on Thursday, and the crafty left-hander knows the time to hang up the cleats and spend more time with his family at his San Diego residence grows closer and closer by the day. His Padres are in an uphill climb, needing to win two in a row in St. Louis and then Game 5 in San Diego to allow the man they call "Boomer" another go-around. "On the other end of that, this could be my last game," Wells said. "I hope not. Hopefully, we can rebound from this, and come back and get another opportunity to pitch.
"I'd like to ride off into the sunset with a smile, not with a grin and say, 'What if?' It's something that I've been around a long time, and you know it's eventually going to come to an end.
"So it would be nice to go out on top."
Amanda Branam is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.