ATLANTA, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Paul Bako delivered two runs with a homer and another by putting down a squeeze bunt Friday, helping Atlanta complete a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros with a 6-2 victory that sent the Braves into the National League Championship Series for the ninth time in 11 years.
Arizona, meanwhile, moved within a victory of setting up a meeting with Atlanta by rallying for a 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Atlanta became the first team to reach Major League Baseball's final four and will either travel to Arizona or host St. Louis next Tuesday to start the best-of-seven NLCS.
Braves starter John Burkett extended Houston's playoff scoreless drought to 16 innings before surrendering a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Daryle Ward with one out in the seventh. Atlanta's bull pen was promptly put into action and Steve Reed, Mike Remlinger, Steve Karsay and John Smoltz were perfect over 2 2/3 innings.
Beginning with the 1991 season, when Atlanta defeated Pittsburgh in seven games to capture the National League title, the Braves have missed the NLCS only twice. One of those occasions was in 1994, when a players' strike wiped out the playoffs. The Braves were eliminated in the division round last year.
Bako, playing catcher in place of the injured Javy Lopez, became the unlikely offensive hero with an assortment of bat skills.
With two out in the second inning of a scoreless game, Houston starter Shane Reynolds was unable to cope with the lower part of the Atlanta order. Rey Sanchez, batting seventh, hit an 0-2 pitch to right for a double.
Bako then slammed a 1-2 offering over the wall in right-center to start the Braves on their way to the next round of the playoffs. Julio Franco, another unexpected contributor in the Braves' lineup after a much-traveled career, homered in the third to make it 3-0 and Bako then figured in another run in the fourth.
In St. Louis, Craig Counsell hit a three-run homer as part of a four-run seventh inning to give Arizona a 2-1 advantage in their series.
Arizona came back from a two-run deficit and then escaped major problems in both the eighth and ninth innings to record yet another playoff victory for a road team. The visiting team has won seven of the 10 playoff games played thus far.
Mark McGwire, batting with the tying runs on base in the ninth, grounded into a double play to end the game.
In addition to Game 4 of the Arizona-St. Louis series today, Oakland will try to finish off the three-time defending champion New York Yankees and Seattle will meet Cleveland in a series that is tied at 1-1.
Wild remains unbeaten
ST. PAUL, Minn., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Five different players recorded multiple points and the Minnesota Wild stood as the only unbeaten team in the Western Conference Friday night following a 6-4 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Andy Sutton recorded two goals and an assist, defenseman Filip Kuba tallied one goal and two assists, Andrew Brunette had a goal and assist and Darby Hendrickson and Sebastien Bordeleau finished with two assists apiece.
The Wild improved to 3
Minnesota's four power-play goals set a team record. The Wild scored three times with the man advantage in the first period, setting another team mark.
Sutton opened the scoring with the man advantage midway through the first period when he deflected Kuba's slap shot from the left point. Minnesota converted twice during Steve Dubinsky's double minor for high-sticking with goals by Jim Dowd and Stacy Roest.
Other NHL results: Detroit 4, Buffalo 2; Montreal 3, Columbus 1; Anaheim 2, Washington 1.
Tom Kelly retires
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly retired Friday, ending the longest active tenure among coaches or managers in professional sports.
Kelly led the Twins to a pair of World Series titles but also endured eight straight losing seasons during a 15-year reign. He cited fatigue and personal reasons when he made the announcement at a news conference in the Metrodome.
"It's been a wonderful place to work, wonderful place to raise my son," said Kelly, 51. "It's just been a fantastic ride and I just feel right now it's a good time to step aside and let someone else take over."
Owner Carl Pohlad and general manager Terry Ryan have begun a search for a replacement, although both wanted Kelly to stay. Coach Paul Molitor, who is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2003, is an obvious possibility.
Kelly's contract expired following the 2001 season. He said the length and amount of a new contract was not an issue, adding that he probably could have filled in the amount of the check.
Jerry Sloan of the NBA's Utah Jazz now has the longest tenure among coaches or managers in sports, having started in that position in 1988. Bobby Cox is tops in baseball, having managed the Atlanta Braves since 1990.
Miami-Florida State highlights college action
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- The Miami Hurricanes still remember that it was Florida State that received the ticket for college football's big show last season.
The top-ranked Hurricanes hope to deliver a not-so-subtle reminder to the 14th-ranked Seminoles in today's marquee matchup at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Last season, Miami rallied for a 27-24 victory over Florida State at the Orange Bowl, a victory that was not assured until a 49-yard field goal attempt by freshman Matt Munyon sailed wide right on the final play.
But it was the only regular-season loss for the Seminoles, who were given the chance to play Oklahoma in the national title game at the Orange Bowl. Miami, which already had lost to Washington, had to settle for the Sugar Bowl.
Florida State (3-1) will be in the unfamiliar position of underdog, even though it owns the nation's longest current home winning streak at 37 games, dating to a 31-31 tie with Florida in 1994.
In other top attractions today, No. 2 Florida will be at Auburn, No. 3 Oklahoma will visit Kansas, No. 4 Nebraska will travel to Baylor and No. 5 Virginia Tech will host Boston College.
Craig Parry seeks first PGA Tour win
LAS VEGAS, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Australian Craig Parry made a double eagle during a round of 6-under 66 Friday that put him one shot in front after 54 holes of the five-round Invensys Classic.
High winds swept the area Friday, making the three courses used for this tournament much more difficult than they had been during the first two rounds.
Parry said the winds reminded him of the British Open, which he came close to winning two years ago. Parry, winless in parts of 12 seasons on the PGA Tour, had a 54-hole total of 19-under 196.
Tom Lehman followed the lowest 36-hole total on the tour this season with a wind-blown 1-over 72 at the TPC at The Canyons and was alone in second at 18-under 197.
John Daly bogeyed four holes in a row on the back nine after moving within one shot of the lead and was tied for eighth at 201.
USA leads in Davis Cup qualifying
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Andy Roddick and James Blake posted straight-sets victories in their Davis Cup debuts Friday as the United States took a 2-0 lead in its qualifying round encounter with India.
Roddick recorded 15 aces to get the Americans off to a strong start with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 rout of Harsh Mankad. Blake followed with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Leander Paes.
This qualifying round tie was supposed to be held Sept. 21-23, but was postponed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The United States was relegated to the qualifying round early this year after losing to Switzerland in a World Group first-round tie.
But the emergence of 19-year-old Roddick as one of the best players in the world and Blake's strong showings to reach the semifinals at Newport and take eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt to five sets at the U.S. Open gave American captain Patrick McEnroe confidence in his selection of the youngsters.
Todd Bodine wins NASCAR pole
MARTINSVILLE, Va., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Driving a Ford Taurus, Todd Bodine won the pole todayfor Sunday's NASCAR Old Dominion 500 with a lap of 93.724 miles per hour around the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway.
It was his third pole of the season and fourth career.
Bodine's oldest brother, Geoff, won seven NASCAR modified races, four Winston Cup events and two Busch Grand National races at Martinsville. Middle brother Brett won two modified races and two Busch events at the track and Todd ran his first career sportsman race here in 1986.
Todd finally added his name to the Bodine's extended list of accomplishments with Friday's pole. Now he is hoping to join Geoff by scoring his first Winston Cup win on Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start on the outside of the first row with his best short track qualifying effort at 93.617 mph in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
Bulls show off youngsters
CHICAGO, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, both only four months removed from high school, electrified the crowd with two slam dunks apiece during the final period Friday night to highlight the Chicago Bulls' 103-90 exhibition victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Chandler, a 7-foot product of Dominguez High School in California, was selected second overall in the June draft by the Los Angeles Clippers before being dealt to the Bulls for Elton Brand. He had nine points and a pair of assists in 22 minutes.
The 6-11 Curry, who contributed seven points and four rebounds, went to the Bulls with the fourth pick out of nearby Thornwood High School. Both youngsters played nearly the entire final 12 minutes to the delight of the 15,344 in attendance.
Also making his debut in a Chicago uniform was former Charlotte Hornet Eddie Robinson, who had 15 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Other NBA exhibition results: Orlando 91, Charlotte 8t; Boston 98, Dallas 96; Portland 107, Sacramento 104.
NHL suspends two Rangers
NEW YORK, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- The New York Rangers will be shorthanded on the blue line for the next two weeks as defensemen Dale Purinton and Igor Ulanov each were suspended Friday for seven games without pay.
Purinton and Ulanov both were banned for separate cross-checking incidents in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to Washington. They will be eligible to return Oct. 27 against Boston.
Purinton delivered a cross-check to the head area of Capitals forward Stephen Peat at 3:39 of the first period. He was given an instigating minor, a fighting major and a misconduct.
Ulanov cross-checked Capitals left wing Steve Konowalchuk in the head area with 6:47 to play. He was assessed a major and a game misconduct.
The suspensions were announced by NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, who is coming down hard on players who appear to be head-hunting.
Tyson to fight in Denmark
COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Mike Tyson continues his quest for another shot at a world title as he returns to Europe tonight to meet local favorite Brian Nielsen in a 10-round heavyweight bout.
Tyson (48-3, 42 KOs, 2 no-contests) will be fighting for the third time in Europe since returning to the ring in January 1999.
Tyson was banished from boxing in August 1998 after having his boxing license suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commision for a heinous incident in a title fight against Evander Holyfield.
In that historic bout on June 28, 1997, Tyson was disqualified in the third round after he twice bit the ear of Holyfield. He has fought five times since, with mixed results.
Akers retires from national team
CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Michelle Akers, one of the stars of the United States women's national soccer team which captured the 1999 World Cup, announced her retirement Friday.
Named FIFA Player of the Century, Akers endured her fourth and fifth shoulder surgeries this year. That prompted the midfielder's decision not to return to the Carolina Courage of the Women's United Soccer Association, the league which stands as one of the legacies of the success the U.S. national squad enjoyed.
Having scored 136 goals in 153 appearances for her country, Akers is one of just four women to record 100 international tallies. The leading goal scorer in World Cup history, Akers was also part of the U.S. team which won the 1991 championship, where she received the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer.
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