Big League Stew - MLB

NEW YORK – The August vacation is an American ritual. It rejuvenates. It invigorates.

How frisky was 44-year-old David Wells in his first start for the Los Angeles Dodgers after 19 days spent relaxing with his family?

He laid down a bunt single to lead off the fifth inning, triggering a two-run rally that turned a deficit into a lead the Dodgers never relinquished in a 6-2 victory over the New York Mets Sunday night. The hit gave Wells a grand total of 20 in 21 seasons.

Then he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning, striking out fellow 40-something Moises Alou on pitches that can best be described as slow, slower and slowest – the last trickling in at 68 mph.

The Dodgers scored three runs in the sixth and Wells turned the ball over to the bullpen, having thrown 73 pitches in five innings for his 236th victory, one the Dodgers desperately needed after losing two in a row at Shea Stadium.

Yes, it was the working definition of a five and fly. (If you've been wondering what the name of this blog refers to, now you know.)

"I wasn't expecting to do that well," Wells said. "I was nervous. A new team, national TV, and in this case, come in and be a savior. I was ready for the challenge."

This is what the Dodgers are paying Wells approximately $100,000 per start to do. Compete. Surprise. Keep them in games.

"I don't know everything he has in his belly, but he has a lot of competitive spirit in there," Dodgers manager Grady Little said.

Wells could make the San Diego Padres rue giving up on him. Sure, he allowed 26 earned runs in his last four starts, but a source close to Wells said the pitcher was perplexed that the Padres cut him instead of putting him on the disabled list.

The Padres intended to pace Wells as a concession to his age and to ensure he was strong for the stretch run. Need evidence? Wells' contract called for financial incentives up to only 27 starts, an indication both parties believed that would have been the optimum number for the entire season.

Yet the Padres had him on a pace to make more than 30 starts. Then they gave up on him when he faltered in Nos. 19, 20, 21 and 22.

If his performance against the Mets is a fair indication, all he needed was an August respite.

"I just played golf and surfed," he said. "I guess I played catch with my kid a couple times."

September is around the corner, and that's when Wells has performed especially well, going 37-25 during his career. He's also 10-5 with a 3.17 ERA in the postseason, but getting there is a longshot for the Dodgers, who return home from a 3-3 trip 3½ games behind the Padres in the wild-card race and 6½ games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.

Oh, by the way, his next start – either Friday or Saturday at Dodger Stadium, depending on how he recovers – will come against the Padres.

"I guarantee it won't be three weeks before he pitches again," Little said. "I'm sure we'll get another competitive outing."

FIVE …

• Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent was hit in the left temple by a fastball from John Maine in the fourth inning and came out of the game. The ball struck Kent in the earflap of his helmet.

"We'll watch him carefully during the flight (back to Los Angeles)," Little said. "That was scary. But he thinks he'll probably be able to play (Monday)."

• Sprint to .500, Take 2. The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the rapidly fading Atlanta Braves on Saturday and Sunday to pull to 63-64. They were one game from .500 after winning their first three games last week, but losses to the Florida Marlins and Braves set them back. The defending World Series champions have had a losing record since early April.

Not that it's too early to gloat.

"All the people we were pronounced dead to were not in this clubhouse," pitcher Adam Wainwright told reporters after notching the win. "They are in here now, all of you guys are in here."

• Wainwright does have room to talk. The second-year right-hander is 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA since the All-Star break, heading a resurgence of the entire Cardinals starting rotation. Remember, he was the closer during the postseason and never made a start as a rookie last season, appearing in 61 games in relief during the regular season and nine during the playoffs.

He also is hitting .271, which isn't insignificant considering manager Tony La Russa has had the pitcher bat eighth the last three weeks. The starting pitchers are hitting .310 during that time and the Cardinals have won 13 of 21 games.

•: Wonder if John Schuerholz feels any buyer's remorse? The Braves general manager was widely lauded for bolstering the roster at the trading deadline by exchanging top prospects for slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira and reliever Octavio Dotel. But the bold moves haven't translated into victories – Atlanta is 11-13 in August, slipping to seven games behind the Mets in the NL East.

Teixeira has done well, belting 10 home runs in 23 games. But Dotel was placed on the disabled list Aug. 10 with shoulder discomfort and poor late-inning relief has continued to plague the Braves.

Furthermore, the Teixeira deal depleted the farm system. The Braves gave up versatile slugger Jarrod Saltalamacchia, gifted 18-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus, touted minor league left-handed pitcher Beau Jones (the 41st overall pick in the 2005 draft), and two other minor league pitchers. To get Dotel, the Braves gave up 23-year-old pitcher Kyle Davies.

Kelvim Escobar notched his 15th victory for the Los Angeles Angels, further crowding the race for the AL Cy Young Award.

Fourteen pitchers have 13 or more victories, with Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox leading the way with 16.

… AND FLY

Even J.M. Barrie couldn't have written a more magical scenario. Dalton Carriker, 12, said he "felt like Peter Pan" when he ended the Little League World Series with a home run Sunday, giving Georgia the victory over Japan.


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