A shade more than 14 months ago, David Wells appeared at a news conference in Fenway Park, not far away from the room where he greeted reporters yesterday. Back then, Wells was a card-carrying member of the Evil Empire, a true believer in the Curse of the Bambino, on the verge of pitching Game 3 of the Red Sox-Yankees AL Championship Series. He did not try to disguise his contempt for Fenway Park.
"Whenever they are ready to get rid of this place, let me push the button," he said. "Get another stadium. I think they deserve it."
Wells yesterday made fun of the remarks, saying they were said "a long time ago" -- a time when he was struggling at Fenway Park. (He said he had previously rejected a chance to join the Red Sox for that very reason.) Regardless of when he said what he did, or what he really meant, he now must come to grips with his personal charnel house: Fenway Park is his home for 2005 and may be for 2006 as well.
"I guess I'm one of the good guys now," he said, flanked by his wife, Nina, and Sox president Larry Lucchino. "I never thought I'd be in this situation, after battling the Boston Red Sox over the years. Some of my worst games have been here. There are very few games that I have done well here. So it's a challenge for me."
Wells, 41, said he craves professional challenges and acknowledged this is a biggie. He is 10-10 lifetime in Fenway with a 4.78 ERA. But he pitched masterfully here last season, losing a 1-0 decision to Pedro Martinez June 8 as a member of the Padres. And, adding to his appeal, through his career he's developed a reputation as a big-game pitcher, backed by a 10-3 postseason record with a 3.18 ERA.
Said Lucchino, "He's a battle-tested guy."
The Red Sox signed Wells to a two-year, incentive-laden deal last week and the veteran southpaw arrived yesterday, passed his physical ("with flying colors," he said), then acknowledged he was taken aback by how quickly everything had gone. He said Boston general manager Theo Epstein called him in San Diego, the two talked, and "within a few hours, the deal was done. I couldn't believe it happened so quick. They put a great deal out there before me, and I felt it was something I couldn't pass up."
As for the deal, which could be worth as much as $18 million, Wells said, "It gives me something to pitch for. I've got a lot of incentives. That's going to push me that much [harder]. Provided I stay healthy, it's going to be easy for me to make."
The Red Sox are Wells's eighth team, and next season will be his 19th in the majors. He has played for two teams -- the Yankees and Blue Jays -- on two occasions. He has spent virtually all of his career in the American League, save for half a season in Cincinnati (1995) and last year with the Padres.
Wells and Lucchino both said that the pitcher is by no means construed as a replacement for Pedro Martinez, although the timing of yesterday's news conference coincided with one Martinez gave in the Dominican Republic confirming that he was leaving the Red Sox for the Mets.
"I'm not taking anyone's place," Wells said. "I'm the new guy on the block. Guys come, guys go. It's up to the organization to find somebody and get the rotation where they want it to be. That's the way the business is. As a player, you don't like to see guys go, but you understand the business."
He said he could not fault Martinez for accepting the Mets' lucrative offer. "He got offered $56 million," Wells said. "That's hard to turn down, a no-brainer. I've never been thrown that kind of deal, and I'd have jumped on it right away."
The colorful, quotable Wells appears to be an ideal fit for the loosey-goosey Red Sox clubhouse. Lucchino alluded to that in his introduction, saying, "From what I've learned about David, I think he'll fit in very well both in Boston and in the clubhouse personality profile, with the club we have here."
Said Wells, "I've fit in everywhere I've gone. I like to have fun, joke around, mix it up a little bit, stay loose." He said last season he had the San Diego clubhouse guys move some weights into Ryan Klesko's locker because Klesko was having trouble with the long ball.
But, he hastened to say, when it's his turn to pitch, he's all business.
"Give me the ball. I'm ready," he said. "I've never turned down a challenge. Why start now?" He mentioned more than once that he was not afraid to fail and that he "feeds off the negatives" being said and written about him.
He was asked about the possibility of starting the season opener in Yankee Stadium, where he pitched for four seasons and won two World Series rings. It was clear from listening to Wells that he still likes New York, loves the New York fans, and would have been a Yankee last season had not New York "threw too many things in there that I'd be stupid to take the deal."
He said when he showed up last year to pitch in Yankee Stadium for the Padres, he received a long standing ovation. "It was overwhelming," he said. "I started to lose it out there.
"New York fans have been very good to me," he continued. "They've poured their hearts out in support of David Wells. I'd do the same for them. I can't predict what's going to happen. I have to go out and beat the Yankees. And I don't have a problem doing that."