Baseball: Wells swells with pride at his perfect pitch

IT WAS already a good season for the New York Yankees. But things got even better on Sunday when David Wells, their left-handed pitcher, threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in front of 50,000 fans at the Yankee Stadium. He pitched to 27 batters, and got 27 outs: no errors, no hits and no walks, an unmarred record.

It was only the 15th perfect game ever, and the second in the Yankees' history. Their first was by Don Larsen in October 1956, over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series: Wells and Larsen attended the same San Diego high school, albeit 35 years apart.

Wells, who is about to turn 35, is hardly a model athlete. Podgy, with a penchant for beer and a habit of getting into trouble - who does that remind people of? - he had been warned about his weight only last week. Virtually the first thing he did on joining the Yankees last year was to break his hand in a street fight.

The tension built as Wells moved into the seventh inning, with his team- mates reluctant to speak to him as the strikes mounted. Wells, rarely at a loss for words, seemed stunned by the achievement. But when he went back to the locker-room, there were three magnums of champagne waiting for him, and the celebrations started. "Right now, I'm the happiest man on earth," he said later. "He won't forget it," said Larsen, who called Wells to congratulate him. "He'll think about it every day of his life, like I do."

The game, which the Yankees won 4-0, was just the latest episode in a hot season for the Yankees, who are the strongest team by far in the American League East, and by extension the League as a whole. Ironically, after a weak start to the season, Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager, looked as if he might lose his job. No chance of that now; and Wells might find Torre a little more tolerant of his peccadilloes.