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Booming beginning for newcomer Wells

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On one foul line stood Curt Schilling, wearing black Reebok cleats, white uniform pants, two red socks, and a Red Sox cap. "Changeup," Schilling barked yesterday afternoon, releasing a pitch.

About 60 feet away, his throw settled into the glove of a man wearing white sneakers, white crew-cut socks, team-issued shorts, a sleeveless Red Sox T-shirt, and a black cap that read "Whiteboy." The shirt revealed two tattoos on his right arm of his children's faces. Twice the cap fell off, providing the odd juxtaposition of a bald head and a black goatee.

Perfect, he's not.

Nonetheless, David Wells should be serviceable at worst, a solid No. 2 starter at best, and entertaining at the very least. The 41-year-old southpaw, who once claimed to be misquoted in his autobiography ("Perfect I'm Not! Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball"), arrived in Sox camp yesterday. He talked for 20 minutes, uttering more than 2,000 words, almost all entertaining.

"I'm not a big fan of Florida spring training," said Wells, the 18-year veteran who worked four of his most memorable seasons in Yankee pinstripes. "Coming down here, seeing the big `B' and all the red and blue, it's a different sight for me.

"I've got to just go out and do my job and pitch to my ability and let my pitching do the talking instead of me."

Easier said than done. Take yesterday.

* On the overzealous nature of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry: "I was there when Pedro threw Don Zimmer down. And that whole thing was not necessary. Zim, man, he's just a crazy old man. He just got tired of Pedro's tactics, and he went right after him."

"I was right there," said Wells, who, like Zimmer, has no hair. "Everybody thought it was me. And I promise you, that wouldn't have ever happened."

* On Martinez: "Pedro had a tendency to hit a lot of Yankees. Every time we retaliated, we got fined and Pedro escaped from being fined. One of those was me, and Trot [Nixon] happened to be the hitter. I threw behind him. Tried to get him, and I couldn't.

"If I need to protect my teammates, no matter what happens, I've been around long enough, I know what to do."

* On Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez: "He's a five-tool player. He's one of the best out there. But I remember reading his press conference when he went there. He said a `we' in his conference, like he's won three or four rings with them, and he hasn't. That kind of disturbed me . . . He shouldn't put himself in that category, like he's been there the whole time. He's got to earn it."

Wells stayed true to that point when talking about the 2005 Red Sox and the possibility of repeating.

"Provided everyone stays healthy and does their job, I don't see why they can't go out and repeat," he said.

Wells certainly earned his pinstripes, compiling a 68-28 record in New York in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2003. He won a ring in '98, the year he went 18-4 for the 114-48 Yankees. In fact, he felt so comfortable in New York that he called Yankees general manager Brian Cashman this offseason, following one year playing in his hometown of San Diego. Last season, he posted a 3.73 ERA, his lowest since '98 (3.49).

But Cashman wasn't interested, Wells said. In March 2003, Cashman said Wells "did tarnish the Yankee image" with his book. Wells was fined $100,000 by the team.

"I said, `If there was any interest, I'd love to come back to New York and play,' " Wells said. "Brian told me, `We'd love to have you, but the Boss is looking in the other direction. We're going to go with youth this year.' They turn around and sign [41-year-old] Randy [Johnson]. What part of that I didn't get I don't know.

"Maybe I did wear out my welcome there. But at least I gave it a shot. Then Theo [Epstein] called me the next day and asked if I was interested in coming to Boston. I told him, `I don't know. I'd have to think about it.' Fact is, I've never said anything good about it. I've always been an archrival. We sat and talked over the phone and worked it out."

Wells is here, he said, because "when you want to go out, you want to go out on top. I thought this was probably the best team out there to win."

In fact, Wells claims he picked the Sox to win the World Series prior to last season, citing the team's pitching staff as his rationale.

"I should've put some money down on it, huh?" Wells said.

Come the offseason, the Sox put money down on Wells -- $8 million guaranteed, with the chance to make $18 million total -- hoping to milk his talent before it expires. He turns 42 May 20, though Sox manager Terry Francona said Wells "can probably pitch until he's 50. He's got beautiful mechanics . . . We just need to keep that back [healthy] and keep that knee from swelling."

Wells, who is listed at 6 feet 4 inches, 248 pounds, said he's healthy.

"My arm feels great," he said. "The rest of me, I've been working out for about six weeks on the weights and everything. There's days when I'm very stiff and tight. I get in there and stretch and loosen it up, and I get through the day fine."

His immediate challenge, he said, will be getting acclimated to the organization, and to the fans who booed him as a Yankee.

"I can't imagine going from here to there," Schilling said.

Wells surely would love to take the ball opening night in the Bronx, opposite Johnson. But, he deferred to Schilling, the staff's ace.

Wells, a Torrance, Calif., native, enjoyed pitching last year in the relative vacuum that is San Diego. He said that next to the magical '98 season, 2004 "was probably the best season of my career, comfortability-wise. Now I'm going back into the war." Yet he's never been one to shy away from anything.

"I'll enjoy it," he said of the notoriety. "I'll push it aside. Like I said, I can overcome all those things. I overcame a lot of things in my life, and I still go out between the lines. That is my sanctuary. I have fun. I'm like a kid out there.

"I want to go out on top. I'm not going to let anything stop me."

Not much has. In New York, he once lost two teeth when he was punched in the face inside a diner. In his book, he admits not only to drinking but to being half-drunk when pitching his perfect game in 1998.

It was suggested yesterday that at some point this year his relationship with the media will sunder, that he'll do or say something outrageous.

"You think?" Wells asked. "I think the only way that's going to happen is if you guys provoke me. And you know me, I fight fire with fire. I thank my mom for that. She never took any crap from anybody, and she told me, `Don't take it. Treat them the way they treat you.'

"My personal life, anything I do, is none of anyone else's business unless something off the wall happens and you guys are curious."

Stay tuned.

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