This ‘dream come true’ for David Wells won’t be such a fond memory if it’s the last time he takes the mound in the majors.
The top concern for Wells likely will be to contain Albert Pujols, who has the St. Louis Cardinals in position to leave Petco Park with a 2-0 lead over the San Diego Padres as this NL division series continues on Thursday.
This could be the final game Wells (1-2, 3.49 ERA) ever pitches, and the last time San Diego fans see their team play at home this year.
Even without a win Thursday, the Cardinals can close out this best-of-five series this weekend in St. Louis because they won 5-1 in Game 1 on Tuesday after Pujols’ two-run homer broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning.
“I love pitching to guys like Albert,” Wells said of facing Pujols, who could win a second straight NL MVP award. “I get a big thrill out of it and get the opportunity to get them out, then you got bragging rights. But then again, he can change a game with one swing.”
Possibly the biggest reason the Padres re-acquired Wells on Aug. 31 is his success in the playoffs, having gone 10-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 26 appearances.
“This is like a dream come true,” said the 43-year-old left-hander, a native of the San Diego area who has 230 career wins and plans to retire when the season ends. “I’ve been going to Padres games at an early age and supported them my whole life.”
He’s lost his last two playoff starts—with the New York Yankees in 2003 and for Boston in 2005—but allowed only five earned runs in 13 2-3 innings.
Wells was a combined 3-5 with a 4.42 ERA this year for the Red Sox and Padres, though he was limited to 13 starts mostly because of knee problems. Even last week, he missed a start due to gout in his right foot.
Wells, though, already has shown the Padres he can be a clutch pitcher. He threw six scoreless innings on Saturday to help San Diego clinch a playoff spot with a 3-1 victory at Arizona.
“This couldn’t be a better time for me,” he said. “It’s my last year, and going out on top would be a nice way to go, especially in your hometown.”
It wouldn’t be such a nice way to go if the Padres were to be swept out of the playoffs in the first round by St. Louis for the second consecutive year.
Pujols went 5-for-9 with four walks in last year’s NLDS, and continued to torment San Diego pitchers this season before going 2-for-4 in Game 1.
His career average against the Padres, including playoffs, is up to .407 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs in 41 games. He’s gone 3-for-9 with no homers against Wells.
“I don’t think about if they’re going to pitch to me because I want to be aggressive,” said Pujols, a career .340 hitter in the postseason. “If I start thinking a lot of things like that, that’s going to take my aggression away. I just take whatever they give me.”
Pujols and the Cardinals look to hand the Padres back-to-back home losses for the first time since mid-August. While San Diego closed by winning nine of 11 to win the NL West, St. Louis lost nine of 12 and needed Houston to lose on the final day of the regular season to hold on for the NL Central title.
The momentum of both teams, however, seems to have shifted with only one game.
The Padres have never won in seven postseason games against St. Louis, and have lost eight straight contests in the playoffs dating to 1998.
Looking to extend that skid will be Jeff Weaver (5-4, 5.18), who is 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA in four postseason games.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa opted to start Weaver in Game 2 because he’s pitched well away from home since being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in July. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 4.03 ERA in eight road starts for the Cardinals, compared to a 1-3 mark and 6.52 ERA at home.
“We haven’t played well on the road,” said La Russa, whose team is 7-24 away from home since July 26. “I forget now what the stats were, the wins we’ve had, Jeff Weaver has been involved in the majority of them. It made sense, I think, to give him the ball.”
Weaver, who won his last three decisions this season, is 2-0 with a 1.61 ERA in three starts against the Padres over the past two years.
Mike Piazza, who has gone 2-for-12 (.167) against Weaver, and the rest of the middle of San Diego’s lineup is looking to bounce back. Adrian Gonzalez, Piazza, Russell Branyan and Mike Cameron—the No. 3-6 hitters—went 1-for-15 with a walk and six strikeouts on Tuesday.