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Phillies take control of volatile situation, trading 'Wild Thing'


Wild Thing, you wouldn't have made their hearts sing.

Philadelphia is not a kiss-and-make-up kind of town. It's more like a boo-and-bomb-threat kind of town.

Relief pitcher Mitch Williams, the "Wild Thing," eye of the Phillies' World Series storm, would not have stood a chance back in Philadelphia.

It was in the aftermath of the World Series-deciding homer that Williams had been asked about the pretzel logic of returning to Philadelphia to pitch again.

"Why not?" he had answered, looking his interviewer straight in the eye.

At the time the hope was that Mitch merely was being gallant. There's no crying or hiding in baseball. Williams knew that, all blown saves aside, he couldn't let the Vinnys and the Carmens get him down.

Knowing, more thoughtful minds prevailed yesterday, however, and Williams is now a member of the Houston Astros.

You know the apocalypse is coming when you either have to trade away your best relief pitcher or frisk everyone who enters the ballpark over the age of 2 1/2 .

"I think this probably was done both in the best interests of Mitch and of the Phillies," general manager Lee Thomas said in making the announcement. "Mitch did a good job for us. I hate to see him go. But I think that in the long run, it will be better for him and probably for everybody."

Williams, of course, built his reputation out of a unique disdain for prosperity. He saved 43 games last season. But Mitch was like the firefighter who saves his victims by tossing them from 10th-story windows.

Most make it. Some didn't.

In the end, though, it probably was just like center fielder Lenny Dykstra said, four days after Williams blew the 15-14 fourth game and one day after Game 6.

"Say, dude, suppose it's Opening Day at the Vet, and there are 60,000 people in the stands," Dykstra said, "and we go to the ninth inning with a one-run lead. And Mitch comes in and walks the first guy.

"What happens then, dude?"

It was a question, apparently, that Thomas and the Phillies didn't really want to answer.

Satisfied, Philadelphia?

Unless Williams is playing under some dark, Romanian curse, the Astros will make out like bandits on this trade. Houston gets a 29-year-old left-hander with a 3.34 ERA and 43 saves. The Phillies get a prospect and Doug Jones, who is 36 and had a 4.54 ERA in 1993. No, the word out of Philadelphia is that they don't expect Jones to be their closer.

The trade, instead, was laced with all manner of altruistic factors. Mitch, a former Rangers Wild Thing, makes his off-season home in nearby Hico and truly loves living in Texas. If he had to go elsewhere in the National League, it may as well have been Houston.

The key to the deal may yet be the prospect, Jeff Juden, who is 22 and 6-foot-7 and was 11-6 in Triple-A last season.

But frankly, you get the feeling that Thomas merely was trying to do Mitch -- and himself -- a generous favor. Williams had said that he believed the memories of his postseason transgressions would pass.

But, Wild Thing, how would you know for sure? Though the Phillies were in first place all but one day last season, fans groaned and moaned for five months about the notorious Philly collapse of 1964. Blessed are the merciful, except in Philadelphia.

Williams' classy, courageous stand in the clubhouse after the World Series -- he ducked no cameras or questions -- probably helped guide the Phillies toward yesterday's decision.

Pardon the observation, but Leon Lett hides, and he gets a fan club. Williams answered all the questions, and he got bomb threats.

In any case, welcome back to the neighborhood, wild guy.

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