Of all of the personalities on the 1998 Yankees, none was as outspoken as David "Boomer" Wells. And just about every time Wells took the field that season, he backed up his words.
En route to an 18-4 record in the regular season, Wells authored one of the greatest days in Yankees lore, retiring all 27 batters he faced on May 17 at the old Yankee Stadium. During the first regular season perfect game in team history, Wells struck out 11 Minnesota Twins and was carried off the field by his teammates after the final out.
That October, Wells -- who is one of three Yankees pitchers, along with Don Larsen and David Cone, to toss perfect games -- earned wins in each of his four postseason starts. Wells took home American League Championship Series MVP honors after defeating the Cleveland Indians in Games 1 and 5. He then emerged victorious in the 1998 World Series opener, giving the Yankees seven innings of work.
Wells was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays the next year but would return to the Yankees in 2002 for two more seasons in the Bronx. The lovable lefty, who finished his Major League pitching career in 2007 with 239 regular season wins, spoke with Yankees Magazine editor-in-chief Alfred Santasiere III from his home in San Diego, California.
Going into the 1998 season, how good did you think that Yankees team could be?
Well, I knew how good we were in 1997. I wanted to pitch against Cleveland twice in the 1997 American League Division Series, which we lost. I wanted to get two shots at them in the '97 ALDS. It didn't work out that way, but I really think if it had, we would have won that series and then won the whole thing. Going into the 1998 season, I felt like if we didn't win the World Series, it would have been a fluke. The lineup and pitching staff that we had on that team was crazy.
It was phenomenal. We were a tight-knit group. If there was any animosity, it was nipped right away. We all went out to dinner together on the road. That is what put us in a good frame of mind every time we got to the ballpark.
You led the league in win percentage during the regular season. Looking back on that season, what does it mean to have played such a prominent role on a team that won 114 regular season games?
I was just doing my job. I was only as good as the guys behind me. But as long as I went out there and did my job, I felt like we were going to win. I knew we were going to score runs. We had a great lineup, and a patient lineup. I felt like I had free will to pitch to my strength, which was attacking every hitter. I didn't care what my ERA was because our offense gave me the confidence to know that if I gave up a few runs, they would eventually come back and give me a lead.
You had eight complete games and five shutouts. What was your mentality when you got deep into games that season?
I wanted more complete games than I had. I hated to come out of games. My job was to go nine innings, but we had one of the greatest closers of all time on the team. He had to do his job, and he almost always did it. There were times when my pitch count got high or I was laboring too much, and the right thing to do was have Mariano [Rivera] bring it home. But in my mind, I never wanted to come out of the game. We won all of those games that season because in addition to Mariano, we had guys in the bullpen who could bridge the gap to Mariano. They all preserved so many good outings for me and the other starters.
The only time you struggled that season was in the days leading up to your May 17 perfect game. What was that time like for you?
About a week before the perfect game, things got heated between Joe [Torre] and me. David Cone stepped in and helped smooth things over a little, but things were still rocky. I was a team player, but I was a guy who marched to the beat of my own drum. When we got back home, it was just business as usual for me. I went to the ballpark every day, got my running and throwing in and watched the game. I would go out after every game with my teammates and have a few pops. I wasn't too worried that I wasn't pitching well.
What about the night before the perfect game?
I went to Saturday Night Live to watch the show. I figured I would get home at around 1 o'clock in the morning, but it didn't work out that way. I got home at 5:30 in the morning. So I felt like I had dug a hole for myself, and I would need to make my way out of it. I tried to stay away from everyone when I got to the Stadium on that Sunday morning. I wasn't in the best of shape physically or mentally. My bullpen session was a bust. Who would have thought that all of that would lead up to one of the greatest moments of my life?
At what point in the game did the thought of throwing a perfect game enter your mind?
When I walked into the clubhouse in the fifth inning. I could hear the radio broadcast in there, and they were talking about me throwing a perfect game. That was the last thing I wanted to hear. When I got back to the dugout and sat down on the bench, everyone got up and walked away. When you're throwing a perfect game, you're the loneliest man in the world. I started feeling the pressure an inning or two after that.
Was there anyone in the dugout who helped keep your nerves in check?
Yeah, David Cone started chirping at me late in the game. He was telling me to throw a knuckleball. And I kept saying, "What are you talking about? I don't throw a knuckleball." When I came to the dugout after that inning, he was on the top step of the dugout, screaming, "You've shown me nothing!" His vein was popping out of his forehead, like it always did when he got wound up. He was being a great teammate and friend. That totally got my mind off the pressure of trying to pitch a perfect game. He's one of my best friends, and I don't know how I would have reacted if someone else was saying that stuff, but David really settled my nerves.
When were you most nervous that day?
Whenever the ball was hit to [former second baseman] Chuck Knoblauch. He had a lot of problems fielding that season. Ron Coomer hit a bullet to Chuck, and he fielded it cleanly and threw a strike to Tino Martinez at first base. That was a big relief. I was also nervous when I faced Paul Molitor in the seventh inning, just because he was such a great hitter. And, of course, when I got down to the last out, I felt a lot of pressure. I kept telling myself, "If you don't make a mistake here, you're going to pitch a perfect game."
Video: MIN@NYY: Sterling calls final out of Wells' perfecto
What was it like to get carried off the field at the old Yankee Stadium after you had completed the perfect game?
It was really incredible. You have to be lucky to throw a perfect game, but to have that happen after all of the hype that built up during that game was the ultimate moment in my career. It was better than winning the World Series.
What was your conversation like with fellow perfect game pitcher Don Larsen after the game?
It was awesome to get a phone call from Don. I still can't believe that he and I both went to the same high school. We talked about that, and we compared our perfect game stories.
Speaking of perfection, you had a flawless record that postseason. After the disappointment of not getting to pitch as much as you wanted to in the 1997 postseason, how did it feel to pitch so well in 1998?
After I shut out Texas in the ALDS, I was thrilled that we were going to play the Indians. I knew I could beat them, and this time around I knew I would get to pitch against them twice. I was up for the challenge. I had confidence, and I had the ability to shut out those great teams. At that time, I didn't think there was a better pitcher in those situations than me. But I was just one of the players who came up big that postseason.
Were you excited about going back to San Diego -- where you grew up -- for the middle games of the World Series?
Well, it was bittersweet. I liked being back there, but I didn't like getting booed in my hometown. I went on Howard Stern's show before the World Series, and Howard tried to get me to predict how many games it would take us to beat the Padres. I didn't want to make a prediction. But he wouldn't stop pushing me to do so the whole time I was on the show. Finally, just to shut him up, I said, "If I was to make a prediction, I would have to say that we'll win it in five games, but I'm not predicting anything." The next day, the headline of the New York Post read, "Wells' bold forecast: Yanks In 5." The Padres hung that paper up in their clubhouse, and word about that got back to San Diego pretty quickly. I got booed like crazy out there.
All these years later, what are your thoughts on what World Series MVP Scott Brosius did in that Fall Classic?
It was fun to watch him in that Series. He was absolutely locked in. We all knew that (Hall of Fame closer) Trevor Hoffman had nasty stuff, but Scott was able to take him deep. Scott really carried the team in the World Series.
How special was it for you to celebrate that championship in San Diego after the four-game sweep of the Padres?
It was great. George Steinbrenner brought in Perrier-Jouët champagne, and it tasted a lot better than the Mumms that they had waiting for us in the clubhouse out there. During the celebration, I made a toast to Darryl Strawberry, who was dealing with cancer at that time. That was a special moment for everyone. After we left the stadium, we went back to our hotel downtown, and we had an epic celebration. All of our friends and families were there, and we enjoyed that night like no other.
What was it about Darryl that made him such an important part of that team?
He's a great guy and really humble. I remember seeing him in the back of the clubhouse, smoking a cigarette in between innings. He'd go out and hit a home run, and then go back and smoke another heater. He knew the game, and he was always prepared. He could beat you with one swing of the bat, and he always had our backs. No one took exception to the sucker punch of a pitch that (former Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher) Armando Benitez hit Tino [Martinez] with that May than Straw. Boy did he go after those guys that night. We loved having him on our team.
How would you describe the World Series parade?
It was the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed. It was awesome to have my family with me on the float and to feel the love that city gave us. I really understood why there is no better place to win than in New York.
What are you going to do to celebrate the 20th anniversary of your perfect game on May 17?
I'll be in New York, hosting a fundraising event. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit my Perfect 33 Foundation, which raises money for Navy SEALs and their families. We will also be raising funds that night for (perfect game catcher) Jorge Posada's Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund. Jorge will be there, as will several of my other former teammates.
This interview is part of a season-long series of Q&A's remembering the 1998 Yankees and has been edited for clarity and length.
Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.