NEW YORK (AP)—It’s a baseball axiom as old as pitching itself, and David Wells knows all about it.
“Strike one is the best pitch,” Wells noted. “You key off that.”
Armed with that piece of pitching wisdom, the 41-year-old Wells threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 31 batters he faced Tuesday night, coming within one out of a shutout and pitching the San Diego Padres past the New York Mets 3-1.
The only hits against the 41-year-old left-hander until the ninth were a pair of first-inning singles to Jeff Keppinger and Gerald Williams. The Mets knocked Wells out of the game with two outs in the ninth on a double by Williams and Richard Hidalgo’s RBI single.
Wells shrugged off the incomplete game.
“Every pitcher who goes that far wants to finish,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to be. It didn’t happen. No big deal.”
What was a big deal was the win for the Padres, who are in the National League wild-card chase and doing it in New York, a place Wells loves and the city where he once pitched a perfect game for the Yankees.
He still gets excited pitching in New York, even at his advanced baseball age.
“I get fired up here,” he said. “It’s a great town. It’s a lot of fun. The people here respect me. It’s the best city in the world. You’ve got to get fired up when you come to New York, pitching on either side.”
Wells (8-7) has flourished on the road. Tuesday’s win his fifth straight road victory, and his only loss away from home came on April 19 at San Francisco. He struck out four and walked none and came within one out of his 13th career shutout. It would’ve also been his first complete game of the year — and 53rd of his career.
“It’s been a while since I finished,” said Wells, whose last complete game was June 17, 2003. “I had that in mind.”
Padres manager Bruce Bochy heaped praise on Wells.
“He’s a pleasure to watch,” Bochy said. “He’s a complete pitcher with command on both sides of the plate. He knows what he’s doing.”
San Diego nicked Mets starter Kris Benson (10-10) for a run in the fourth when Mark Loretta drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Phil Nevin’s one-out single to right that fell just out of the reach of a diving Hidalgo. Loretta advanced to third on a fly out by Ryan Klesko and scored on a two-out RBI single by Sean Burroughs.
San Diego made it 2-0 in the fifth when Ramon Hernandez hit the first pitch of the inning just over the left-field fence for his 13th homer.
Brian Giles led off the sixth with a double and moved to third on Nevin’s fly out. With the infield drawn in, Klesko bounced a single up the middle to score Giles and make it 3-0.
Benson worked six innings, allowing three runs and seven hits.
The Mets never threatened Wells until the ninth. He gave up a leadoff single to Keppinger in the first, but then picked him off base. Then, Williams singled with two outs but was stranded.
“I felt good,” Wells said. “I got focused after the first inning.”
The only other Mets runners against Wells came in the third when Benson reached on an error by third baseman Burroughs, and in the sixth when Vance Wilson reached on shortstop Rich Aurilia’s two-out error.
The injury-laden Mets, with regulars Mike Piazza, Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes already on the disabled list, almost lost Hidalgo in the second inning when he banged his left knee into the wall chasing a foul fly. He remained in the game after treatment on the field. Six of the nine Mets starters weren’t on the roster as recently as June 15. … LF Cliff Floyd did not start because of a sore elbow after being hit by a pitch Monday night. … RHP Heath Bell, called up from Norfolk on Tuesday, arrived two hours before the game and made his major league debut, pitching two scoreless innings.