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Stadium? Wells has no trouble placing it

"I can hear them from all the way inside the Yankee clubhouse. `Boo-MER! Boo-MER! Boo-MER!' they roar. My heart is pounding. My hands literally shake, but with pinstripes in place, I exit the Bombers' dugout as the big crowd explodes. I hop the line, just like always, crossing the grass toward the single greatest spot on this planet -- the pitcher's mound in The House That Ruth Built."

-- David Wells, "Perfect I'm Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches, and Baseball."

NEW YORK -- He will be just 10 inches above the earth, but tonight, sometime after 8:05, 41-year-old David Wells again will feel on top of the world.

Yet he'll have bounded out of the wrong dugout and hopped the wrong baseline. He'll be wearing road gray, reborn into a bizarro world in which up must be down, down has to be up, the Red Sox are world champions, and the "Boo-MER" chants might be reduced to "Boo."

"I don't know," said Wells, pondering the reception he'll receive tonight as the Opening Day starter for the Red Sox against the Yankees. "Last year I had probably the best ovation I've ever had in my life, coming in pitching for San Diego. That two- or three-minute standing ovation was awesome because they don't forget.

"That's what's so great about New York. When I went to Toronto and San Diego, coming back, they remember. That's something. Hopefully, because I'm putting on a Red Sox jersey, they don't think I'm a traitor of any sort. I am who I am. You can't take that away."

He is, in his heart, a Yankee.

This is the place Wells was perfect for one sensational day in May 1998. The place he went a sublime 18-4 in '98, helping the Yankees to a 114-48 regular-season record and a World Series. The place that allowed Wells to be Wells, to pitch one day, then appear in drag on "Saturday Night Live" another day.

This is the team for which Wells pitched just four of his 18 seasons (1997-98, 2002-03), though it seems like all 18. The team for which he recorded just 68 of his 212 victories, though it seems like all 212. The team Wells called in the offseason looking for work, only to be told that they wanted to go with someone younger. The club then signed Randy Johnson, who is five months younger than Wells.

Tonight, Wells (12-8, 3.73 ERA in '04) and Johnson (16-14, 2.60) will pitch the season opener in a place where Johnson must quickly become at ease. That has never been an issue for Wells, who has long reveled in the mystique of The Stadium.

"It's weird, man," he said. "I don't mess with that type of stuff, because I'm superstitious. You go into New York and Yankee Stadium, and everything that can happen good or unbelievable happens in that stadium. It's ridiculous. The good things that happen, I know baseball gods and greats are just hovering over and smiling."

Wells's relationships with people here vary. Manager Joe Torre? "I've never had a good relationship with Joe. We've had a few run-ins." Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre? "Mel Stottlemyre as well. And Mel was probably the best pitching coach I ever had." George Steinbrenner? "I'm sure we'll cross paths. He's a joy. He's fun to be around. You guys see all the bad things. I see a lot of good things about him."

It was Steinbrenner who twice met with Wells for one-on-one lunches following the 2001 season, then offered Wells the chance for a second tour in New York even though the lefthander was coming off major back surgery. But they haven't talked since Wells left for San Diego following the 2003 World Series loss to Florida, Wells said.

If they see each other?

"I'll give him a big old hug," Wells said. "[I'll say] `I love you, man.' George has been great to me, he's been nothing but nice. He can be stubborn, but so am I. You take the good with the bad and just remember because he is a very generous man, he really is. I just think for me, I will never forget."

As for ex-teammates, Wells maintains tremendous respect for Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Jason Giambi.

"Derek I've known for a while," Wells said. "We've become pretty good friends. He's funny. He's classy, you know. And he's saved many games for me. You've got to take care of those who take care of you during the season, and he took care of me for four years.

"They know it's a business. We can go out after the game. That's fine."

Wells recently compared Posada, his onetime catcher in New York, to Jason Varitek.

"If [Jason] sees something wrong, he's not afraid to tell you and he's not afraid to jump your [butt], and as a catcher he needs to do that," Wells said. "You've got to be stubborn as a catcher. Jorge was the same way. Jorge was unbelievable back there. Jorge's got the edge, until I've spent a few years with Jason and I can evaluate him.

"Thing is, I've got a lot of friends on the other side. I'm still going to pitch the way I pitch. Because they're my friends doesn't mean, `Here you go.' I love you, man, but not that much. The game is the game. When the game's on, there's no promises. It's time to play ball."

When Wells takes that ball, he'll be making his 77th career start (and 86th appearance) at Yankee Stadium. Lifetime, he's 44-18 with a 3.64 ERA in 550 2/3 innings in the Bronx. He's 16-8 with a 2.94 ERA career vs. the Yankees. He last pitched in the Stadium June 7 of last summer in a 6-5 San Diego loss. Wells actually posted seven shutout innings. He allowed five hits, struck out four, and walked none. He left leading, 2-0, before the Yankees tied it in the ninth and won in the 12th.

"We know it's not going to be an easy game," said Torre. "He certainly is a spirited pitcher. He could get up on Christmas morning and throw the ball 90 miles per hour. He has that kind of an arm. And he loves the competition."

Despite his celebrated 18-year career, this will be just the third Opening Day start for Wells. In each of his previous two, he went six innings and allowed two earned runs. He was left with a no-decision in 2000 with Toronto in a 5-4 loss to Kansas City, then, pitching for the White Sox, beat Bartolo Colon and the Indians, 7-4, in 2001.

Wells, meanwhile, will be the Sox' first lefthanded Opening Day starter since Bruce Hurst in 1986. In fact, since Mel Parnell started four of five Opening Days (1950, '52-54), only three lefties have started a Sox opener: Hurst (1984, '86), Gary Peters (1970), and Dick Ellsworth (1968).

Yet Wells said he will not be caught up in the moment.

"I think that to go in there and build all that up for a game, it wouldn't be easy," he said. "It would be a lot tougher than it would appear to be. I've just got to go out and be a solid pitcher. When you get caught up in yourself, someone better punch you in the [expletive] mouth.

"Randy, he's got game, too. We'll know. We'll know late Sunday night."

This will be the 53d meeting between these teams since the beginning of the 2003 season, but it's shaping up to be anything but monotonous.

"We've got Boomer Wells on the team," Sox chairman Tom Werner said early in camp. "He'll add to the storied legacy, won't he?"

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