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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Game 4 Is Business as Usual for Williams

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Amid the emotions of October it was typical Wild Thing, or as Mitch Williams said of this latest brush with danger:

“I’m used to it. There’s no trouble I haven’t been in. Anything bad that can happen on the field I’ve been part of it, but it doesn’t bother me as long as no runs cross the plate.”

It was almost in defiance of logic and the situation that no runs crossed Sunday night as Williams turned in a harrowing 1 1/3 innings to preserve a 2-1 victory for his Philadelphia Phillies over the Atlanta Braves.

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The National League playoff is now tied, 2-2, and the Phillies are assured of taking it back to Philadelphia for Game 6 Wednesday.

The Wild Thing?

“I’ve already got calluses on my heart,” first baseman John Kruk said of the Phillies’ closer.

“What do you do? We’re blessed with this good team, and God knew that wasn’t right so he gave us Mitch.”

This one was the most important game of the Phillies’ improbable season, Manager Jim Fregosi said, and he called on his closer to replace a tenacious Danny Jackson with two on, two out and the Braves down by that final one run in the eighth.

It was the first time this year Williams was brought into a save situation earlier than the ninth, and Mark Lemke promptly hit a high drive to left that Milt Thompson finally ran down on the warning track, making a backpedaling catch as Kruk added another callus.

It was a catch Pete Incaviglia, the right-handed hitting half of Fregosi’s left-field platoon probably could not have made, which the manager explained later is why he did not pinch-hit for Thompson when left-hander Kent Mercker replaced John Smoltz in the seventh.

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“I never take out my best defensive players when we’re leading,” Fregosi said.

Said Williams of the catch: “Honestly, I thought it was a routine fly ball that kept carrying. Milt was under it, then he had to go back again, but it really wasn’t hit that well.”

Ho hum.

Now the ninth, which pinch-hitter Bill Pecota opens with a bloop single to center. “A good pitch,” Williams said. “He broke his bat. What do you want.”

Otis Nixon follows with a bunt in front of the plate. Williams attempts to barehand it, drops it, and can’t make a play.

“I was looking to get the out at second, but barehanding it was stupid,” he said. “I had to peel that one and eat it.”

Fregosi went to the mound at this point to calm his high strung southpaw. Jeff Blauser was due to bat next, and everyone in the rocking stadium of 52,032 knew Blauser would attempt to put a sacrifice bunt down the third base line, drawing in third baseman Kim Batiste.

Batiste came to the mound, too, and Williams told him not to charge but to cover the bag. “I fall off the mound that way, and I told him I’d get to the bunt,” Williams said.

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He did, and fired to third, but the throw was in foul territory, and it took a big reach by Batiste to glove it for the force on Pecota.

“I threw him a palm ball and I thought it was going down the third base line,” Williams said. “Batty made a great play.”

Williams then came back with a great pitch, jamming Ron Gant, who grounded to second baseman Mickey Morandini for a game-ending double play, giving the Wild Thing a win and save in this playoff--or, in the parlance of the bullpen, two scares.

“It’s never pretty, but he’s the best we have,” Fregosi said, trying to breathe later. “As I’ve said many times, Mitch is a carrier. He doesn’t have ulcers, he gives them.”

Williams set a Phillies record with 43 saves in 51 chances this year. He also allowed 102 base runners on walks, hits and hit batters in 62 innings. He has retired the side in order only once in his last 26 appearances.

“A lot of guys get on first and they say to me, ‘how do you take it,’ ” Kruk said. “At least I have somebody to talk to when Mitch is pitching. I just hope it’s a nice guy.”

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Williams pushes the image, trying to give the hitter as many things to think about as he can. He wears a headband inscribed “No Fear.”

Said catcher Darren Daulton: “What haven’t I said to Mitch? I’ve called him names, I’ve talked about his dogs, I’ve told him I’m thirsty and want a beer, I’ve threatened him. That’s just the way he is, but you look at the bottom line and he does the job.”

He did it Sunday after 24 hours of no sleep because of food poisoning. Poison pork, he said. Finally, he ate half a candy bar in the seventh inning and kept it down.

An inning or two later he again had his teammates feeling queasy, but 2-1 eased the Wild Thing’s ill effects.

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