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Angels' Vernon Wells has happy homecoming in victory over Toronto

Wells hits a home run in his first at-bat in a 5-1 win against his former team. Ervin Santana pitches his third complete game in four starts and wins his fifth in a row.

August 12, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Angels left fielder Vernon Wells acknowledges the Toronto crowd before his first at-bat in the second inning Friday night at the Rogers Centre.
Angels left fielder Vernon Wells acknowledges the Toronto crowd before… (Darren Calabrese / Associated…)

Reporting from Toronto — There are occasions in baseball that define players beyond their salaries or statistics, moments that are about emotions and not numbers.

For one night, Vernon Wells could escape the constant reminders of how low his batting average is, or how high his salary is. On this night, he had the happiest of homecomings.

"It's something I'll be able to tell my kids about," Wells said, "when they forget I played this game."

First game back in Toronto, after 12 years with the Blue Jays. First at-bat. First pitch.

Home run.

Wells put the Angels ahead for good, in a 5-1 victory for which more credit went to Ervin Santana than to Wells. Santana pitched his third complete game in four starts, closing within two outs of a shutout until Eric Thames homered in the ninth inning.

In his last five starts, he is 5-0 with a 1.29 earned-run average, those three complete games and a no-hitter. He has not lost since June 21.

"He has been unreal," Wells said. "He has been the best pitcher in the game the last few starts."

Yet the day belonged to Wells, and what a day it was. His family flew here for the game, and the Blue Jays announced a $20,000 charitable donation to honor the community outreach of Wells and his wife, Charlene.

The Jays approached Wells about an on-field ceremony, but he declined.

"I didn't want to overstep any bounds," he said.

When he emerged from the Toronto dugout about four hours before game time, clutching a Roberto Alomar bobblehead doll, Angels pitcher Joel Pineiro shouted at him from the other side of the field.

"Cut the cord," Pineiro yelled.

The Blue Jays management severed its cord last winter, trading Wells to the Angels for two players no longer here and $70 million in salary relief. Wells had become a bit of a target by the end of his tenure here, his salary something of an albatross, and so he said he had no idea how he would be welcomed back.

He and his teammates had joked about getting a standing ovation, hitting a home run and getting booed.

"I didn't count on it happening," he said.

It did. The ovation was so loud before his first at-bat that he backed out of the batter's box, removed his helmet and waved it to the crowd.

"I was trying to enjoy it and not turn into a crying baby at home plate," Wells said. "It was a moment I'll never forget."

He composed himself, stepped back into the box and swatted the first pitch over the left-field fence, for his first home run since July 23. He could always hit here, after all.

He earned himself a round of boos as he circled the bases. When he got back to the dugout, he did something resembling a victory dance with Erick Aybar.

"He was pumped," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It was a great moment for Vernon. He left some footprints here. He played very well for a long time.

"For him to hit a home run on the first pitch he sees in his stomping grounds, it's a terrific moment."

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