Six pitches in, Yankees leadoff man Derek Jeter greeted his old teammate with a screaming solo shot to left, making the 42-year-old Wells feel old in the process. Four pitches later, there was Gary Sheffield tattooing a solo homer to left that meant Wells had squandered Boston's early two-run lead in a matter of minutes. This was looking like the Wells who had been hit soundly in his first two starts off the DL.
First impressions weren't even close on this Sunday night in the Bronx as both the Sox and Wells appeared to be getting well, taking a 7-2 victory over the Yankees. The Boomer came within two outs of earning his first complete game win since June 17, 2003, when he was a member of the Yankees. Instead, he went 8 1/3 innings and threw just 95 pitches. Closer Keith Foulke came on to record the final two outs.
This was sweet stuff for Wells, who improved to 45-19 in his career at Yankee Stadium, and 17-9 in career encounters against the Yankees.
"It's good to redeem yourself," said Wells, now 3-4 with a 5.96 ERA. "I know what I'm up against. They have a good hitting team here. Just shut them down and keep the crowd out of it, and that was the main thing. Getting the run support. It seems like they needed to score 10 runs for me to get a W, but it's nice to go out there and hold them to two and go deep in the game."
The competitor in Wells dearly wanted to go the distance. And Sox manager Terry Francona was just hoping he didn't have to arm wrestle the ball away from his pitcher with a nationally televised audience watching.
"I didn't know if he was going to give it to me," said Francona. "I kind of told him, 'We can go fight later if you want, you have to give me the ball now.' He wanted to stay in. I'm glad he wanted to stay in. But I just thought he had done so well. I just thought it was the right time."
After beginning this six-game road trip through Toronto and New York at 0-4, the Sox were gratified to take two out of three from the Yankees as they embark on a stretch of 10 games against three first-place teams (the Orioles, Angels and Cardinals).
"We knew we were playing a good team," said Francona. "2-4 on a road trip isn't what you're setting out to do, but it's better than 0-6. We swung the bats; we really came alive with the bats against some good pitching. Put ourselves in a position where hopefully we can go home and get hot."
The 2-3-4 portion of the order was relentless all night, as Edgar Renteria, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez combined to go 11-for-15 with six runs, three homers and six RBIs. It was a rough night for Yankees starter Mike Mussina, who threw nearly as many pitches in his three innings of work (83) as Wells did in his near complete game.
Even after a 17-run onslaught on Saturday, the Sox still had plenty of wallop left in their bats, and Mussina was left to pay the price. After sizzling Renteria struck a one-out single, Ortiz crushed a two-run blast into the upper deck in right field. Mussina labored all inning, throwing 35 pitches.
"We had gotten his pitch count so high so early and we didn't let up," Francona said. "We did a great job of working him, working him, working him."
The Yankees had two quick answers in the bottom of the first, with Jeter and Sheffield smoking those solo shots.
"That first inning scared me a little bit," said Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "But he settled down, his curve was working, he was able to keep everyone off balance. It was a good sign of what he needs to do to get people out."
The performance was particularly satisfying for Wells, given the venue, the opponent and his struggles this season. After sounding like a beaten man after his last start in Toronto, Wells swiftly got himself up off the mat.
"I'm my own worst critic, so I'm entitled to speak my mind," said Wells.
But on this night, he didn't have much to critique.
Wells traded numbers with Renteria before the game, wearing No. 16 instead of No. 3. Perhaps that was an omen that Wells was ready to erase his early-season woes. He mowed down the Yankees with pure precision in this one, producing single-digit pitch counts in five of his innings.
"I just made good pitches. That's the only thing you can do," said Wells. "You feel good out there. Sometimes you try to overthrow. But I just went out there and slowed my tempo down a little bit and just made good pitches."
While Wells settled down nicely, Mussina couldn't find his rhythm. The Sox jumped on him again in the third, with Renteria and Ortiz opening the inning with back-to-back homers. Ortiz smoked his second homer of the night into the black section of vacated seats in center field, an area that has only been touched by 19 players since the remodeling of Yankee Stadium in 1976. Ramirez then singled to left and scored all the way from first on Trot Nixon's double off the wall in center.
From there, Wells went into cruise control mode and the rest of the team rode his coattails.
"He pitched well," said Jeter. "He's done it for us, done it against us. He moves the ball around. He knows how to pitch. Boomer knows what he's doing out there. He has a plan and he executed it tonight."
Heart of the order
Boston at NY Yankees, May 29, 2005
|The 2-4 hitters for the Red Sox -- Edgar Renteria, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez -- came up big Sunday night against the Yankees. Their lines:|
"The greats, man. They're shining down," said Wells. "If you don't want to pitch in this stadium, there's something wrong with you. This is the best place for me to pitch in my career. I love Yankee Stadium, I love everything about it."
He used to be beloved at the Stadium, even while wearing Toronto and San Diego uniforms. But not anymore.
"It's nice to shut them up, that's for sure," Wells said. "I can understand the boos, but hatred, that didn't cut it. I'm not going to get in a feud with the fans. Let them do what they want, they're entitled. I'm the villain. It's my job to go out and beat the Yankees. Tonight was very gratifying, that's it."
Only a wire-to-wire evening could have made the night any more special for Wells.
"I would have liked to," said Wells. "But I did my job, going out there and throwing eight innings. That's good enough. Not bad for an old man."
By the end of the night, the old man felt young again.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.