Wells, a free agent cut loose earlier this month by the Padres, was officially signed Friday to take Tomko's nationally-televised start on Sunday night, as well as his roster spot. Tomko, 2-11 with a 5.80 ERA, was designated for assignment, but he suited up anyway at Shea Stadium before packing his bags in hopes of a trade or, after 10 days, his release and free agency.
Wells' signing can be viewed either as an infusion of a proven big-game winner and perfect-game hurler for the stretch run or an act of desperation, a roll of the dice on a 44-year-old who hasn't pitched since Aug. 6 and hasn't won since July 16.
"It's a little of both," said general manager Ned Colletti. "I think it's worth the chance. We know his resume. We're not expecting him to go 6-0 with an ERA of 2.00. We know he's a competitor who won't be fazed by anything and he'll give a game effort every time out."
Wells also figures to be a dominant figure in a quiet clubhouse, but how much he has left in the tank when he's on the mound is the question.
The left-hander was hammered for 26 earned runs over 16 2/3 innings in his last four San Diego starts. He then went to his San Diego County home to surf and golf. He played catch with the kids a couple times, but said he was convinced his career was over until a deal was struck Thursday. He hopped a flight in time to throw the bullpen session because he hadn't been on a mound in weeks.
Manager Grady Little said he has confidence sending Wells to pitch Sunday night against the Mets, the last team he beat as a Padre (six innings, one run), saying that Wells deserved a better fate in some of his earlier losses.
"This is David Wells," Little said. "He'll take the mound, give up a hit or a run, but you look up and it's six or seven innings and you have a chance to win a game. That's all you can ask of a starting pitcher. He's a hell of a competitor, he loves to pitch in big games and we'll try to get in position to have several of them."
Wells has a 235-156 career record in 21 big league seasons with the Blue Jays, Tigers, Reds, Orioles, Yankees, White Sox, Padres and Red Sox. He made 22 starts for San Diego this season and posted a 5-8 record and 5.54 ERA in 118 2/3 innings.
"I've accepted a lot of challenges in my career, but this is right up there," Wells said after making about 25 pitches. "I hope I give the guys what they want. I'm here to help a team win a pennant. I thought I was done, that's why I didn't do anything. I haven't seen a mound in three weeks Sunday. That's a pretty good layoff for your balance, your release point."
Wells said the rustiness from inactivity was felt in his balance on the mound and he would not guess how many innings or pitches he would be capable of on three weeks' rest.
The three-time All-Star has appeared in the postseason 11 times, including three World Series and a World Championship with the Yankees in 1998. He earned MVP honors during the American League Championship Series that season and has a 10-5 record and 3.17 ERA in 27 career postseason games (17 starts).
Wells still has a seven-game suspension for arguing with umpires under appeal and figures to miss some time before the season ends. The Dodgers will pay a pro-rated amount of the Major League minimum salary (around $80,000) plus bonuses for starts. He was to earn more than $175,000 for each additional start this year for the Padres.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.