Midseason acquisition Williams carries Cardinals again
Updated: Thursday October 11, 2001 8:41 AM
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
PHOENIX -- It was the deal that helped turn their season around, but it's understandable if you weren't exactly blown away when the Cardinals picked up Woody Williams from the Padres back in August.
There certainly were more earth-shattering swaps made that week. For one thing, it's not as if St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty mortgaged his future to get a player he thought would instantly turn the Cards into contenders. Jocketty was so desperate to rid the team of disgruntled outfielder Ray Lankford that he might have taken a pitching screen and a bag of balls instead of Williams, who was 8-8 with a 4.97 ERA for San Diego.
While the Cardinals were considering the deal, pitching coach Dave Duncan was skeptical -- he wondered to the rest of the St. Louis brass why the Padres were so willing to unload a pitcher who had been relatively successful for one of the worst teams in the majors.
After Williams's performance in Game 2, Duncan must really be curious. There was another dominating pitching performance in Game 2, but it didn't come from Randy Johnson, who allowed a first-inning two-run home run to Albert Pujols and left after eight innings trailing 3-0. It came from Williams, who was nearly as impressive as Curt Schilling and Matt Morris were in Game 1. The right-hander allowed one run and four hits in seven innings, struck out nine, walked one, and generally made the Diamondbacks look like they were swinging Wiffle bats instead of Louisville Sluggers.
No Arizona baserunner reached second while Williams was on the mound. The Diamondbacks scored their run off the St. Louis bullpen after Williams left in the eighth.
"We were very aware of Randy Johnson today," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "But one thing we knew, the guy taking the mound for us has no fear."
Indeed, Williams' competitiveness may have been as important to the Cardinals' playoff push as his 7-1 record and 2.28 ERA after the trade. Duncan taught Williams a slider, a pitch that made him much more effective and confident against right-handed hitters. Williams returned the favor by bringing a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to the team.
La Russa compared the influence Williams had on the St. Louis clubhouse late this season to that provided by Will Clark last year. Before the trade the Cards were 54-52. After Williams arrived they went 39-17. "Whether it was Will playing, or when Woody pitches, he just competes as hard as you can compete," the manager said. "Nobody competes as hard as he does."
Williams demonstrated that last season, when he pitched eight innings two days before discovering he needed surgery to repair an aneurysm in his right armpit. He missed two months of the season, yet still threw 168 innings and finished with a 3.75 ERA. On Wednesday he was at his best on those few occasions when he had to pitch out of the stretch. The hapless Diamondbacks were 0-for-6 against him with runners on.
"Whenever he did get in trouble he came up with his best pitches of the day," said Arizona manager Bob Brenly. "To use a term usually saved for position players, he's a gamer."
Not just on the mound. Williams had one of the key at-bats of the game in the third, when he fouled of three two-strike pitches from Johnson before ripping a double to center field. Two batters later he scored on a sacrifice fly. In the sixth, he made an athletic stab of a line drive ripped back up the middle by Tony Womack. He slightly strained his right groin on the play and received a mound visit from La Russa and the Cardinals' medical staff, but gutted his way through two more innings.
When he finally came out after allowing a leadoff single in the eighth, Williams had thrown 133 pitches. He had also been a much-needed savior. Instead of heading home down 0-2 in the series the Cardinals are tied. They beat Johnson, and Arizona's rotation looks much less fearsome over the next two games.
"This year has been an emotional roller coaster, going from not having a chance at the postseason in San Diego to one of the best organizations in baseball," Williams said. "I wouldn't ask for anything more."
In Game 2, neither could the Cardinals.