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Rays smack into a wall named Wells

The Jays ace pitches his second complete game at Tampa Bay this year for his 13th win, best in baseball.

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[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
David Wells' five-hitter makes him the majors' first 13-game winner. That's more wins than any Rays pitcher had last year. 

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- For future reference, this is the first thing an ace does when a game ends. He steps off the mound.

Toronto's David Wells threw a complete-game five-hitter against the Devil Rays on Wednesday night, winning 5-2 for his major league-leading 13th victory before an announced 15,308.

How impressive is it for a pitcher to win his 13th game on June 28?

The Rays did not have a pitcher win 13 games in all of 1999.

(For that matter, the Rays did not have a pitcher win 12, 11 or 10 games in all of 1999.)

"He doesn't overpower you, but he has a good fastball, he has a good curveball, he has a change-up, he has a cutter, and he throws them all for strikes. You never know what's coming next," Rays centerfielder Randy Winn said.

"Even if you sit on his curveball, you're not going to hit it every time because it's that good. The same thing with his fastball. He throws it hard enough and locates it, so you can't sit on that every at-bat. He's always getting ahead of you, strike one, strike two, and it's always in a different spot."

Tampa Bay has gotten a glimpse of what it's like to have a true slugger (Jose Canseco) and a big-time closer (Roberto Hernandez), but the closest the Rays have come to a legitimate ace is three months' worth of Rolando Arrojo in 1998.

Wednesday night was a good example of what an ace is supposed to look like. Wells tossed his fourth complete game, most in the American League, while throwing 108 pitches.

"After three innings, they said he had thrown 23 pitches and 20 for strikes," Hernandez said. "I said, "What is this? A Nintendo game?' "

A true No. 1 pitcher is the most rare of baseball stars, and the Rays have been unlucky enough to get an up-close look at Wells twice in little more than a month.

The Safety Harbor resident came to town in May and threw another complete game in a 3-2 Toronto victory.

"To be honest, I don't know where we'd be without him," Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi said. "To me, he's been the best pitcher overall this year, and that's saying a lot because that guy in Boston (Pedro Martinez) is pretty damned good."

Leading the AL in complete games is nothing new for Wells. He did it in 1999 and was second in 1998, although he said he rarely thinks about finishing a game.

"I never looked at the scoreboard and didn't know what inning it was until I went out there in the ninth," Wells said. "When you're locked in, you're locked in ... and I was in my own little world today."

For a short time, Rays starter Esteban Yan appeared as if he might make Wells work for his 13th victory.

Each pitcher gave up a home run and little else through three innings.

That quickly changed in the fourth. Toronto led off with three singles followed by a double to bring two runs home. A groundout and an error by Felix Martinez led to two more runs.

"It was a rough outing, obviously," manager Larry Rothschild said. "Why? It is hard to tell why right now. He got a couple of fastballs up and left a split over the plate to (Jose) Cruz for the double down the line."

At that point, with a 5-1 Toronto lead, the game essentially was over for the Rays. Wells has given up more than five earned runs in only two of his 17 starts this season.

His only major mistake was a 2-and-2 pitch Russ Johnson hit over the wall in leftfield in the third. It was Johnson's first home run of the season and first with the Rays. It also gave the Rays home runs in eight consecutive games, a team record.

Of course, that meant little by the time the game was over and the Rays found themselves holding the AL's worst record.

"It was all David Wells tonight," Rothschild said. "He kind of took over the game.

"It's going to take a real well-pitched game to be able to beat a guy like that when he is on. They got the runs early. Against a guy like that, it's tough to come back."

The Rays still can take the series by winning today's finale. Tampa Bay has won five of its past six series.

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