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Williams making return All-Star trip
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07/06/2003  5:56 PM ET 
Williams making return All-Star trip
Closer has 24 saves in 28 chances
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Mike Williams earned his second trip to the All-Star Game. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
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    PITTSBURGH -- Major League Baseball announced the All-Star rosters Sunday and, for the second straight year, closer Mike Williams was selected to represent the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Midsummer Classic.

    "It's definitely an honor," Williams said after the Pirates' 8-3 win over the Houston Astros. "It's exciting to play with the best players.

    "It's just as exciting as the first time. I'm going to enjoy it. It's a hectic couple of days but it will be a lot of fun."

    2003 All-Star Game

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    Following a season in which he established a franchise record with 46 saves in 50 opportunities, Williams is piling up the saves once again in 2003. His 24 saves in 28 opportunities are tied for the third most in the Major Leagues.

    "He's been outstanding for us," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon. "I'm glad to have him on our side. The last three years since I've had him he's saved 92 out of 102 games, which is pretty darn special."

    Williams' battery mate Jason Kendall, a three-time All-Star himself, was also happy to see his teammate get the nod once again.

    "It's well-deserved," said Kendall. "I don't think people realize how hard that job is.

    "He's done an outstanding job for us. It makes it very easy for us as a position player when you know you've got someone like him coming in in the ninth inning."

    While Williams has continued to accumulate a large number of saves this season, some questioned whether or not he was a worthy candidate to represent the team because of his 6.29 ERA in 34 1/3 innings.

    McClendon, who will be joining Williams on the NL team as a member of Dusty Baker's coaching staff, believes the closer's ERA is not an effective gauge of his performance.

    "His ERA is certainly up there and I think that is probably over-exaggerated because of a couple of outings," said McClendon. "I don't worry about ERA. I worry about his performance closing out games."

    In fact, 13 of Williams' 24 earned runs this season came in four appearances. In his other 33 trips to the mound, he has a solid 3.13 ERA.

    "My numbers aren't where they should be but I'm up there in saves and that's my job to get saves and close the game out," said Williams.

    Because Williams does not possess a dominating fastball, he rarely gets mentioned among the top closers in the game -- not that the relative lack of recognition makes a difference to Williams.

    "[Recognition] really doesn't bother me," Williams said. "I know the players that I am out there pitching against know what I can do and they respect me. That's all that matters."

    Perhaps no one in baseball has more respect for Williams than his manager. According to McClendon, it's the closer's heart as much as his nasty slider that makes him All Star-worthy.

    "I think a lot of people think he's the ideal setup guy and he's sort of a poor-man's closer, so to speak," said McClendon. "But I tell you, I'll take Mike Williams any day. He's got a big heart, he competes and he usually gets the job done."

    Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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