Major League Baseball yesterday upheld David Wells's six-game suspension, postponing the Red Sox lefthander's next start by two days.
That began a day of intense verbal sparring between Wells and the major league office that ended with the Red Sox apologizing to MLB for Wells's biting criticism.
Wells claimed that his regular criticism of commissioner Bud Selig probably led Selig to intervene in the appeals process and tell arbitrator John McHale Jr. to ''stick it to him." Wells went on to criticize Selig's handling of the steroid issue, claiming, ''Major League Baseball I don't think has a clue what's going on. They're just hoping that somebody screws up [and fails a test]."
Wells also said MLB waited to announce Rafael Palmeiro's steroid test until Aug. 1, a day after the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, to avoid attention. The Aug. 1 announcement followed a lengthy appeals process; the Baltimore Sun, for one, reported that Palmeiro failed his test as early as May. Palmeiro, Wells said yesterday, ''singlehandedly whipped our butts" in early July, when the Baltimore slugger knocked in nine runs in a four-game series vs. the Sox, with Boston losing three times.
Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations, answered back on Selig's behalf last night, calling Wells's account of the Palmeiro case ''pure fiction."
''David Wells has once again created a distraction with a series of ill-informed and ill-conceived comments," Manfred said in a statement. ''With respect to Rafael Palmeiro, Mr. Wells has absolutely no accurate information concerning the processing of the Palmeiro case.
''As the Players Association has stated publicly, the Palmeiro case was processed in strict compliance with the Basic Agreement and the discipline was announced as soon as the appeal was completed. Mr. Wells's statement that the discipline was delayed is pure fiction.
''Mr. Wells's dissatisfaction with his appeal says more about his poor behavior than it does about the quality of the appeal process."
The Sox, in a statement released at 10:30 p.m., took the highly unusual step of apologizing for the comments -- an apology that came at the request of Major League Baseball.
''While the Red Sox are disappointed to lose David Wells for six games, the Club recognizes that the disciplinary process has run its course, and we accept the results," the statement read. ''However, the comments made by David today regarding the Commissioner of Baseball do not in any way reflect the views of the Club.
''The Club believes the Commissioner has demonstrated visionary leadership and integrity, and we recognize that his contributions to the game have been enormous. Thus, we apologize to the Commissioner."
Wells made his comments during a meandering 18-minute press conference that he requested.
''I'm sure Selig, from the things I've said in the past, said, 'Stick it to him,' " said Wells. ''I can't wait to win the World Series and have Bud Selig come up to me. I really can't. Who knows what will come out then?"
Wells's criticism of Selig didn't veer beyond the context of player discipline until he was asked whether he believes his punishment was the result of his personal disdain for MLB.
''I do," said Wells, who was scheduled to pitch Friday against the Orioles but will have to wait until Sunday. ''Because I know Selig doesn't like me.
''Look at his actions, what he's done, especially the All-Star Game a few years ago [that ended in a tie], Congressional hearings. I don't think he's doing anything good for the game. Congress has stepped in and put the pressure on him and the Players Association to try to get some kind of testing with the athletes and steroids.
''I'm all for steroid testing. I've been tested three times. It's obvious that there are guys that are getting away with doing it, and he's not doing anything.
''Palmeiro, he already tested positive, but from what I understand from a few sources, he said, 'Let's just wait until the Hall of Fame [ceremonies] are over and then we'll suspend him.' He probably did it because he didn't want the Hall of Famers . . . to have to answer questions about steroids."
Wells, of course, has criticized Selig repeatedly in the past, perhaps never more maliciously than during spring training this year. Wells, in an interview with the Hartford Courant, said Selig isn't qualified to be commissioner.
''I think he's an idiot, to be honest with you," Wells said then. ''He's the commissioner, and that's that. But we don't have to like it."
Yesterday's announcement concluded an ordeal that lasted more than eight weeks. Wells was ejected July 2 vs. Toronto, suspended July 15 (and appealed immediately), and had his appeal heard in a two-hour session in Kansas City, Mo., last week.
Manager Terry Francona said he wasn't prepared to announce any rotation decision for Wells's spot Friday. Two possibilities are Abe Alvarez and Lenny DiNardo. Jonathan Papelbon is another possibility, though the club has moved him around of late between starting and relieving and might not want to thrust him back into a starting role.
''If they're going to do suspensions, fines, all that, get it over with instead of prolonging it," Wells said. ''Now we've got to bring somebody up in my spot, probably, to pitch. That's advantage, New York."
But, there is, Wells acknowledged, ''a blessing in disguise" that comes with his suspension. If he pitches Sunday and each member of the rotation takes his normal turn for the remainder of the season, Wells would pitch the second game of the three-game series vs. the Yankees Sept. 9-11 at Yankee Stadium, and the middle game of the season-ending three-game set vs. New York at Fenway.
If Wells pitched Friday, he would have missed the Yankees in both series. As of now, Matt Clement, Wells, and Curt Schilling, in that order, are in line to face the Yankees in both series.
On that calendar, Wells would make his final start of the season Oct. 1 in the team's 161st game. It would be Wells's 30th start of the year, ensuring that he'd max out the bonus clauses in his contract.
Wells's two-year contract called for a signing bonus (split between the two seasons) of $3 million, an annual base salary of $2.5 million, and health-related incentives ($200,000 for each start between 11 and 20, and $300,000 for starts 21 to 30). Wells, therefore, still can make $9 million this year.
It's possible Wells won't make that 30th start, if the Sox have a commanding enough lead on the Yankees and can afford to rest their starters. Asked if he'd be adamant about making that 30th start, Wells said, ''We'll cross that path when it comes. Anything can happen. I can get injured. I can miss a start. That's the luxury of having a guaranteed contract instead of incentive-laced."
Wells suggested he's not done with his criticism.
''I'm very bitter at this whole situation," Wells said. ''I'll show that more and more as it goes along, as I get more information."
Wells said the initial letter sent to him by Bob Watson, MLB's vice president of on-field operations, explained the reason for the suspension. Watson ''said I bumped, sprayed spit, and beat the umpire," Wells said.
Wells disputes all of those points, but, he said, it didn't matter what evidence he presented, because he's convinced that Watson is out to get the players, and that the McHale, the arbitrator, isn't neutral enough to oversee the process. McHale is MLB's executive vice president/administration.
Wells on Watson: ''As a player, he played hard. I'm sure he was in a lot of altercations. To turn against athletes knowing what we go through during a game, we get squeezed, bad calls . . . He knows that. I just think Bob's out to get the guys."
Wells on McHale: ''They need an outside arbitrator to give us a fair shake. McHale works for Selig. He's getting paid by Major League Baseball. I think it clearly shows we have slim to no chance of winning any hearing. It was a joke.
''You look on the bright side of it: They had to fly into Kansas City, so they wasted their time."
Wells wasn't in the clubhouse after the game. But hanging from his locker was a copy of the letter sent to him by MLB announcing it had upheld his suspension. On it, Wells had scribbled, ''My boy Bud."
Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.