Wild Thing’s biggest regret, the slide step
SEACAUCUS, N.J. — More than 17 years after he gave up the home run that ended an improbable 1993 season, along with his Philadelphia Phillies career, lefthander Mitch Williams has a major regret — the slide step.
Williams ensured his spot in baseball history — and his exit from Philadelphia — after surrendering the Series-clinching three-run home run to Joe Carter that earned the Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series title.
According to Williams, the first time he used the slide step while pitching out of the stretch came after Rickey Henderson led off that fateful ninth inning with a walk.
That was just one of the more fascinating pieces of insight that Williams delivered while he and Carter sat down for the first time for an extended period to go over the game, the pitch, and the home run that will forever bind the two players.
The two recently were brought to the Major League Baseball Network studios here to tape a segment of the network’s “MLB’s 20 Greatest Games” series.
Toronto’s 8-6 win in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series on Oct. 23 was named the 14th greatest game of the last 50 years by MLB Network. Bob Costas hosted the show, along with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, who covered the game that evening in Toronto.
The 90-minute show, which debuts at 8 p.m. on Feb. 14 and will rerun several times, provided a look at the inner workings behind the classic game.
And all these years later, Williams, whose quick wit and sense of humor has made him a popular TV analyst on the MLB Network, showed a much more serious side, although he was still able to toss a few one-liners.
The serious side, not to mention the still-lingering pain, was shown as Williams looked back at the one painful pitch, his final one as a Phillie.
“The saddest part of whole thing is that game was the epitome of our season because it didn’t matter how far we got down,” said Williams, who was traded to Houston in December 1993. “We were down 5-1 and came back to take the lead, and what I regret is that I let us down.”
After the show, Williams said it was the suggestion of pitching coach Johnny Podres to go with the slide step.
The Phillies had overcome that 5-1 deficit to take a 6-5 lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning when Williams was brought in to close the door.
After issuing the leadoff walk to Henderson, a future Hall of Famer, Williams said he was told to use the slide step instead of a high leg kick in order to keep baseball’s all-time leading base stealer from stealing second.
Following Henderson, Devon White flew out to left center field. Then another Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor, hit a single to center field, putting runners on first and second with one out and bringing up Carter.
At the time, Carter didn’t know that he was 0 for 4 lifetime against Williams.
The at-bat against Carter showed a side of Williams few fans knew. Nicknamed “the Wild Thing,” he gave the impression that he chucked and ducked. But Williams was truly a student of the game.
“People think because I had the nickname, ’the Wild Thing,’ that I didn’t know hitters, and I didn’t know what I was doing on the mound,” said Williams, who played minor league baseball with the Spokane Indians in 1983. “Believe me. I knew every hitter I ever faced and knew their nitro zone.”
Williams had just evened the count at 2-2 by getting Carter to chase at a slider.
“In my mind he had to come back with that pitch,” Carter said.
Catcher Darren Daulton indeed called for a slider, but Williams shook him off. He wanted to throw a fastball.
“When he shook off that pitch I thought he was messing with me,” Carter said. “I felt he had to come with a breaking ball.”
Williams thought otherwise and wanted to throw a fastball up and away.
“I either wanted to strike him out or get a lazy fly ball where it does no damage,” Williams said. “If the ball is up in the zone and it’s away from Joe, he can’t hit it out of the park.”
Right idea, wrong execution.
“Almost as soon as it left my hands, I knew I made a mistake,” Williams said of the 2-2 fastball that was down and in.
And Williams blames the slide step. The slide step, he maintains, didn’t allow him to throw naturally.
“I knew if I had gone with my full leg kick and actually rushed because I know how to elevate a fastball and throw a fastball up and away, he either swings through it or he hits a fly-ball out,” Williams said.
Carter said his approach was to look for a breaking ball.
“I knew I had to bear down on the ball,” Carter said. “The pitch he threw me was a great pitch, and the only reason I kept it fair was that I was looking breaking ball the whole time.”
Since he was looking for a breaking ball, he wasn’t way out in front of the pitch.
“I guarantee you if I was looking fastball, I would have swung and missed that ball or hit a foul ball,” Carter said.
Instead it went to left field for the game-winning home run.
The two players have maintained a healthy respect for one another through all these years. Carter told a story about how shortly after the World Series he was asked to go on the talk show circuit — Leno, Letterman, etc. — but he declined them all. He said it would be showing up Williams by going around the country, reliving the home run.
“What I did was a great thing, but it was all in the realm of baseball, and that is what I was paid to do,” Carter said.
The respect is clearly mutual.
“Joe is a class guy,” Williams said. “I could have given it up to a guy like Barry Bonds, who is one of the greatest baseball players ever, and I can’t stand him because he was given a gift and was a person I wouldn’t want my kids to be anything like.”
Even though Williams said he received death threats, which actually came following Game 4 when he took the loss in a 15-14 slugfest, he had nothing but positive words for the Philadelphia fans. Williams has remained in the area, living in Medford, N.J.
“As far as going back to Philly, those people have always treated me great,” he said to Costas on the show.
Williams was a stand-up person after the home run. On the show, there is a clip of an emotional Williams talking to reporters by his locker. Verducci, among the reporters, recalled that Williams didn’t make them wait very long and then he answered all questions, making no excuses.
“The people in Philadelphia work 70-80 hours a week to take their family to these games, and the only thing they won’t accept is excuses,” Williams said. “People in Philadelphia in everyday life don’t win every day and neither do sports teams. They understand that.”
Both Carter and Williams had a great rapport on the set. The two have talked through the years but never spent such a long period of time discussing one of baseball’s classic showdowns.
“It was good because it’s the first time Mitch and I have gotten to sit down and discuss the ramifications, discuss what happened and what each of us were thinking,” Carter said. “We had talked in passing but nothing at length and detail like this.”
Williams said doing the show was a positive experience. But as always, he disliked the ending.
“I enjoyed it,” Williams said. “I just wish I could have switched roles with Joe.”