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Cubs’ Grace and Giants’ Williams Showing Talent in Playoffs

Newsday

There are young, wonderfully talented players other than Will Clark in the National League Championship Series. What’s there not to like about San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams, who has a home run, double and four RBI in the first two games? Or the Cubs’ Mark Grace, who is 6-for-8 with six RBI.

Let’s start with Williams.

“He’s going to hit as many home runs as Kevin did this season. He almost did this year,” Giants Manager Roger Craig said.

The comparison, of course, was with Kevin Mitchell, who hit 47. Williams, splitting his time between the Giants and Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League, wound up with 44, 18 of them in 292 big-league at-bats. He added another Thursday night, with a runner on in the eighth inning.

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Williams has two problems: He hit .202 for the Giants in ’89, and he’s a 23-year-old who, unless you get up close, looks 38.

The batting average figures to get better. Evidence of that was his .320 average with Phoenix. He is 3-for-8 in this series, and impressed teammate Brett Butler in Game 1 when he went with a breaking ball to right field for a two-run double. “He has struggled with that this year,” Butler said.

As for appearing far older than he is, that situation isn’t likely to improve. Blocky despite standing 6-2, he hardly presents the streamlined look of youth. Then there’s his hair, or what’s left of it.

“College did it to me,” Williams said.

He did more than worry, though, at UNLV. He developed a pair of hands that bring to mind Brooks Robinson.

“My coaches helped me there,” Williams said. “They had this drill where you would take a Ping-Pong paddle and cut off the handle. You put five strands of plastic on one side, insert your fingers and go play defense. It’s real tough to catch the ball with that as your glove. It makes you try to be fluid with both hands because the paddle alone isn’t going to glove the ball. You create soft hands.”

Hands that envelop and absorb. Williams displayed them marvelously in Game 1, along with quick reactions. Those of us who haven’t seen much of the Giants may have been surprised. Cubs manager and former Giants coach Don Zimmer wasn’t.

“Heck, that he can play it is no revelation to me,” Zimmer said. “I coached there in ’87. We used him about 80 games at shortstop even though he wasn’t ready to hit in the big leagues. That’s how good he can pick it.”

Then there’s Grace. Have you seen any better at-bat than his 12-pitch encounter against Scott Garrelts in the first inning of Game 1? Grace fouled off eight pitches before going the other way on a full-count fastball and hitting a two-run homer.

As with Williams, Zimmer isn’t surprised when Grace comes through. “He has the same intensity Will Clark has,” Zimmer said. “Look in their eyes. Those are eyes that concentrate, hitters’ eyes.”


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