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`WILD THING’ IS LET LOOSE BY ASTROS

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Last October, Mitch Williams gave up a home run ball to end the World Series. On Tuesday, the Houston Astros gave up on Williams.

They released the disgruntled reliever, saying he had become too much of a distraction after just two months with the club and refused to accept manager Terry Collins' bullpen philosophy.Officially, Williams was placed on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. If he isn't claimed (no claims are expected) he will be released Friday and become a free agent. The Astros must pay the rest of his $2.5 million salary this season.

Williams, obtained in a trade with Philadelphia on Dec. 2, was 1-4 this season with a 7.65 ERA. He had six saves with two blown chances and gave up 21 hits and walked 24 batters in 20 innings.

But general manager Bob Watson said the 29-year-old reliever known as "Wild Thing" still insisted on being the team's only closer.

"If we had a guy throwing a no-hitter, Mitch would probably still want to pitch the ninth inning," Watson said. "That's how intense Mitch is about having the ball in the ninth inning."

That philosophy clashed with Collins, who feuded with Williams over his bullpen by committee plan.

"The focus was on one thing (Williams) and one thing only," Collins said. "This is a good club. The focus should have been on how good Doug Drabek is pitching, and John Hudek and the way Jeff Bagwell has played.

"We went into Philadelphia last week and the mass media was there and nobody wanted to talk to anyone but Mitch. In this game, if you play well, you expect to get a little recognition."