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Padres turn to playoff veteran Williams

Padres turn to playoff veteran Williams

SAN DIEGO -- Woody Williams has been there so many times before. Big games. In a National League Division Series. In the National League Championship Series. In the World Series.

He's been a big-time postseason pitcher with a 3-1 record in six starts. The problem is, all of them have been for the Cardinals. On Saturday night at PETCO Park in Game 3 of what has thus far been a lopsided NLDS, the right-hander will try to salvage the season for the Padres against his old St. Louis mates, who have a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Williams said. "It's just a shame we're against the wall as much as we are. But my job is to go out there and help us continue the season, and that's what, hopefully, I'll be able to do."

This is why the Padres brought back the 38-year-old Williams last winter, to give them a veteran presence in this type of game, signing him instead of David Wells, who went to the Red Sox as a free agent.

"He's probably got as much postseason experience as anybody on our pitching staff," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers on the eve of resuming a series that thus far has had more off-day workouts than games. "He pitched Game 1 of the World Series last year. He has a great record in the NLCS. And he's pitching against his old guys. He's familiar with them. These are the type of games he likes to pitch in."

Williams was at his least effective last postseason on a cold and rainy night at Fenway Park in the opening game of a World Series the Red Sox would ultimately sweep. But he opened the NLDS for the Cardinals against the Dodgers at Busch Stadium and worked six innings of two-run, eight-hit ball in an easy 8-3 win.

Ditto in the opener of the NLCS against the Astros, again at St. Louis. Williams lasted six innings, allowing four runs and four hits in a wild 10-7 Cardinals victory.

It's that kind of blood and guts the Padres are hoping to see when Williams takes the mound on Saturday night.

"He's an experienced guy who knows what he's doing out there," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's not going to be rattled by anything. This is a guy who's helped stabilize our rotation. I know he's excited about pitching in a postseason game. We're glad to have him hitting the mound for us."

It was an odd set of circumstances that sent Williams back to San Diego.

After an 11-8 regular season, plus four postseason starts, the Cardinals opted not to try and re-sign the free agent, general manager Walt Jocketty said on Friday.

The Padres, though, wanted to reclaim him, Towers having long regretted the 2001 trade that sent Williams to St. Louis for outfielder Ray Lankford.

When negotiations came down to the nitty gritty, Williams was offered the same contract as Wells. Towers told the pair that the pitcher who responded first would be the only one signed. The Padres didn't have the money to carry both in what turned out to be a $70-million player payroll.

Williams took the deal -- $3.5 million guaranteed for one year with a vesting option for 2006. Williams was 9-12 this past season with a 4.85 ERA in 28 starts, with the latter number acting as the key. But the contract turned out to be lucrative for the Houston native when the option vested for next season at $5 million on the occasion of his 25th start.

Add an incentive bonus of $125,000 per start this year, giving him another $3.5 million, and that's $11.5 million already guaranteed without including incentives to be reached next season.

It's the kind of contract the cost-conscious Padres like to sign, Towers said.

"There's been some health problems with Woody in the past, and at his age it gives the club some protection," Towers said about Williams, who missed the month of May this season with a left strained oblique muscle. "It incentivizes him to go out there every fifth day. And it gives the club the flexibility that, if you're not in the race, you don't have to start him, either. You both share a little bit of risk. In a perfect world, I'd like that with all my guys, that we both share in the risk."

The risk, though, may all belong to Williams on Saturday because he must shut down the Cardinals for the Padres to extend the series.

"Pitching against an offense like the Cardinals never makes it easy to pitch at all," Williams said. "I am familiar with their hitters; they are familiar with me. It's about me executing my pitches and making sure I do what I want to do. Not letting them dictate what happens, but for me to take control of the game."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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