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Back in town, Yanks' Wells offers a booming rejoinder

THE BALTIMORE SUN

We begin today with a disclaimer from none other than Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who was asked Monday to respond to his players' criticisms of Hideki Irabu.

"I'm not going to put emphasis on what David Wells says," Steinbrenner told reporters in Tampa. "I love the guy. But I think he has to pop off to be normal."

Well, suffice it to say that Wells was his normal abnormal self upon returning to Camden Yards yesterday, offering Exhibit A in the Orioles' case against him in a rollicking 15-minute interview.

Exhibit B came earlier in the day, when the Orioles used the compensation pick for Wells to select Darnell McDonald, a high school outfielder regarded as one of the top five players in the draft.

And Exhibit C came last night, when Jimmy Key got six straight outs after facing nine hitters in the Yankees' four-run fifth inning, enabling the Orioles to rally for a 5-5 tie and then a 7-5 victory in 10 innings.

A two-run homer by Tony "Revenge" Tarasco, a boisterous anti-Yankees crowd, no sign of Jeffrey Maier within 200 miles of Camden Yards. And, lest we forget, the glorious intentional walk to David "The Natural" Dellucci.

The Orioles can't say the Yankees don't respect them. Manager Joe Torre ordered the walk to Dellucci on a 2-0 count in the seventh, even though the Bowie Bomber had failed to clear the infield in his first three major-league at-bats.

Mike Bordick followed with a two-out, two-run double to tie the score, and Rafael Palmeiro hit a two-run homer in the 10th to end the Orioles' nine-game losing streak to the Yankees at Camden Yards.

What more could Baltimore want?

Certainly not a do-over on the Wells-for-Key free-agent trade.

Wells (6-3) won some big games for the Orioles last season -- Game 1 of the Division Series against Cleveland, Game 2 of the ALCS against the Yankees. But comparing him to Key (9-1) is like comparing the class clown to the class president.

He was vintage Boomer yesterday -- half-ridiculous, half-hilarious. offered free counseling to Orioles problem child Rocky Coppinger. And he called Orioles GM Pat Gillick "a coward" for criticizing him in the media, and not to his face.

Gerry Callahan recently wrote in Sports Illustrated, "Wells represented everything that Gillick doesn't like in a player: a free-spirited, earring- wearing guy who did things his way."

Gillick told SI, "Personally, I like both Bobby [Bonilla] and David, but they didn't respect authority. Bobby didn't get along with the manager, and it got to the point where he was always upset. It got to be a distraction."

Doesn't respect authority? Wells is guilty on that charge, and proud of it. He said he was aware of Gillick's criticisms. But, true to form, he dismissed them.

"I don't give a ---- what he says about me," Wells said. "I do my talking on the field. That's basically what it boils down to. It's easy to talk about people when they're gone.

"If you want to say something negative about somebody, dog him that bad, say it to his face and give him an opportunity to defend himself. If you don't say something to somebody's face, you're pretty much a coward."

Gillick declined to comment.

"I didn't try and change the ballclub," Wells said. "I'm my own man. I like to have fun. I like to joke around. Bobby's the same way. He's very vocal. But he gets the job done.

"You abide by the rules. If there's a set of rules, you try not to break 'em. But ---- happens."

Wells said he loved playing for the Orioles -- "the guys were great, probably the best I've ever been around." And he pleads innocent to the charge that he was a poor influence on Coppinger, who dressed at the next locker last season.

Coppinger, a second-year right-hander, hid a shoulder injury in spring training, resisted going on the disabled list at the start of the season, and criticized manager Davey Johnson for removing him from a game too early.

He is now back on the DL with a sore elbow.

"Rocky, he's a determined man," Wells said. "They [the Orioles] think I'm the big cause of it all. But you can tell people one thing, and them doing it is another thing."

The difference is, Wells is an 11-year veteran. He can break a bone in his pitching hand in an off-season brawl, or miss two weeks in spring training with gout, and get away with it.

The Yankees advised Wells to alter his diet and stop drinking alcohol to prevent a recurrence of gout. But we're not talking about the next Jack LaLanne here.

"Rocky's a big man [6 feet 5, 225 pounds]. I can feel for him," Wells said. "When I was there [in Baltimore], they wanted me at a certain weight. But how do you know what that weight is? Some guys can pitch at 250, pitch at 260. They want people to look good in the lobby. It's how you pitch."

Still, he had advice for Coppinger.

"Learn the game and respect what goes on around you instead of being hot-headed all the time. Take care of yourself. At least listen to what they have to tell you before you respond in a ticked-off way."

"Play it their way for a while. If they tell you to lose weight, lose weight. Get down to the weight you feel comfortable. If you can't, meet 'em halfway. And if you're rehabbing, stick to the program. Quit being so bitter about things."

Wow, sounds like Wells has mellowed.

"I don't know the definition of mellow, at least not in the first 34 years of my life," Wells said. "But I know what's right and what's wrong. I've got a 5-year-old son I need to take care of. That's the most important thing.

"I can still be wild. But I've got a knucklehead I want to grow up and have fun with. I think I'm up for father-of-the-year honors."

The New York award, anyway.

Pub Date: 6/04/97

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