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Pirates Williams Pirates' All-Star

Closer is representative for second year in row

Monday, July 07, 2003

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

He doesn't have the efficiency of John Smoltz or the 100 mph fastball of Billy Wagner, but Mike Williams ranks right up there those two in save percentages and is going to the All-Star Game as the Pirates' representative for the second year in a row.

"It's just as exciting as the first time," Williams said yesterday after hearing of his selection.

He was chosen to the team by National League Manager Dusty Baker for the July 15 game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Williams is 0-3 with a 6.29 ERA, but he has converted 24 of 28 save opportunities this season and his save total ranks third in the National League behind Smoltz and Los Angeles' Eric Gagne. Williams has been a part of 63 percent of the Pirates' wins. Last year, he set a franchise record with 46 saves (in 50 opportunities) and has converted 92 of 102 opportunities while closing for Manager Lloyd McClendon.

"I'll take Mike Williams any day," McClendon said. "I don't know what other people in this industry really think about Mike. He's sort of the poor man's closer. He's got a big heart. He competes. He's usually gets the job done."

Williams' teammates congratulated him on the selection.

"Who cares what his ERA is? His job is to get saves, and he does that as good as anybody," reliever Scott Sauerbeck said.

"It's nice to see him get the recognition," catcher Jason Kendall said. "I said a long time ago he's got ice water in his veins. The last three outs are the toughest outs to get in a game. You have to be a little bit sick mentally to have that type of job. When you blow one, everybody hates you. If you save it, everybody loves you. He's done a tremendous job for us. Hopefully, he can do something like this for us in October."

Williams had pitched four games in a row and was not going to be used in the game yesterday against the Houston Astros even if Jeff D'Amico had not pitched a complete-game 8-3 victory at PNC Park. Although he began his career as a starter and didn't adapt to the closer's role until 1999, Williams enjoys the tension and pressure of the ninth inning.

"It's the competition of being out there with a one-run lead against the other team's three, four and five hitters, and may the best guy win," Williams said. "Every day is different. You never know what's going to be around the corner. That's what makes it fun."

Closers live on the edge, and Williams knows what it's like to fall into the abyss. He blew a save and a win against the Reds Wednesday, and the next day he gave up two runs before getting an out while hanging on to save an 8-7 win.

"Every day's not perfect," Williams said. "I'm going to blow saves. Everybody's going to struggle. I think you figure out how good you are when you struggle and how you adapt to it. A prime example is the way the team is playing right now.

"As far as getting saves, if I close a game out before the other team gets the tying or winning run, I feel like I've done my job. I know the players that I'm pitching against know what I can do. They respect me. That's all that matters."

Williams pitched a scoreless third inning in the All-Star Game last year in Milwaukee.

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