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CUBS GOT A STOPPER, AND ENTERTAINER, FROM TRADE

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If you want to learn about Mitch Williams, the National League's newest and zaniest bullpen sensation, it's imperative you talk with Pat Perry, who shares the Chicago Cubs' bullpen with the inimitable left-hander.

Perry can tell you about the time Williams sewed the pants of Perry's road uniform together at the bottom of each leg, making it impossible for Perry to dress for the game."I can stitch," says Williams. "I took home ec in high school."

Or Perry can regale you with tales of Williams' propensity for cutting holes in his teammates' socks, or of his nasty habit of filling the holes of fellow pitchers' gloves with seeds, causing embarrassing delay when they are summoned to the mound.

Mostly a setup man and middle reliever at Texas, Williams came to the Cubs in a heavily publicized, nine-player deal in December and was named manager Don Zimmer's closer.

Williams quickly emerged as one of the National League's top stoppers. He has 13 saves, 27 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA.

He also has a reputation as a charismatic, flamboyant, likeable character with a knack for the unusual.

One of Williams' greatest assets has been his ability to mix cockiness - a necessity for someone asked to face the league's top hitters - with humility - a necessity for someone in a position to become either a hero or a goat on a daily basis.

Much of his humor is self-effacing.

The 24-year-old native of Santa Ana, Calif., calls himself a Slump Doctor. "That's because I can cure anybody's slump in a hurry," he says.

"One thing about me. I can make anyone into a good hitter."

In actuality, Williams has made most hitters look foolish. He has made Jim Frey, the Cubs' general manager, look good, and he has made Zimmer, once desperate for a stopper, feel good.

A season ago, the Cubs' bullpen was in shambles. It blew more than half its save opportunities as the Cubs lost 42 leads in the seventh inning or later.

So the Cubs traded. The key player to them was Williams, who had a reputation as a strong-armed pitcher who could thrive in the proper role.

"The thing that we have now that we didn't have last year," says Zimmer, "is a plan for the bullpen. Now I know that if it's the fifth or sixth or seventh inning and I need a pitcher, I go to (Calvin) Schiraldi. If it's the eighth or the ninth, I go to Mitch."

But don't get the impression Zimmer turns the ball over to Williams and then relaxes. Williams often gets the Cubs into deeper trouble before devising an escape.

"He makes it exciting, doesn't he?" says Zimmer. "But he gets it done. Every time he goes out there, he gives me a little heart failure. Sure, he walks some guys. But the difference with him is he usually strikes out the next guy - or the next two or three guys."