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In Sports From United Press International

Braves take command, Cards even series

HOUSTON, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- The Atlanta Braves absence from the National League Championship Series looks like it will be a brief one.

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Tom Glavine overwhelmed the Houston Astros yet again today and an error by shortstop Julio Lugo led to the game's only run, giving the Atlanta Braves a 1-0 victory and a two games to none lead in their National League Division Series.

Atlanta needs one more triumph to reach the NLCS for the ninth time in 11 years and the Braves will get their first opportunity to close out the Astros on Friday when the series moves to Turner Field. Houston has lost 13 of its last 15 post-season games.

Since 1990, the Braves have failed to play for the league title only in 1994 (when the playoffs were wiped out by a strike) and in 2000 (when they were eliminated in the division round).

At the start of his 15-year career, Glavine lost to Houston eight straight times. But since the start of the 1992 season, he has produced a 15-2 record against the Astros and has not lost to them in six years.

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He threw eight innings Wednesday, allowing six hits with two walks and two strikeouts. The Astros moved just one runner as far as third base, when they missed a big scoring chance in the fifth, and Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles bailed Glavine out with a big defensive play in the eighth.

John Smoltz, Atlanta's one-time superstar starter who has turned into a dominating closer, then allowed a leadoff single to Jeff Bagwell in the ninth. But Braves first baseman Julio Franco started a nifty double play on a sharp grounder off the bat of Lance Berkman to snuff out a possible comeback.

Only two teams have come back from an 0-2 deficit in the division round of the playoffs. The 1995 Seattle Mariners and 1999 Boston Red Sox accomplished the feat, but both were home for Game 3.

The other National League division series was evened at 1-1 when the St. Louis Cardinals added to Randy Johnson's playoff woes.

Luis Pujols hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Johnson and the Cardinals produced a 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson has lost his last seven playoff decision.

The final division round series to get underway sent the Oakland Athletics against the New York Yankees tonight. After Cleveland blanked Seattle Tuesday night, 5-0, those teams took today off.

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NBA veteran Larry Johnson retires

NEW YORK, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson, a two-time All-Star whose career never reached its full potential due to back problems, announced today he was retiring after 10 seasons.

Still plagued by a chronically sore back, Johnson was waived by the Knicks Wednesday and officially ended his playing career.

The New York Times reported that Johnson has accepted a buyout from the Knicks that will pay him the $29 million that remains on his contract. The Knicks may be in line for a medical exception worth as much as $4.5 million that could enable them to sign a free agent.

Johnson was acquired from the Charlotte Hornets on July 14, 1996, for Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus and has been responsible for some of the memorable moments in recent Knicks playoff history.

In 1999, he helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals by scoring 26 points in a Game 3 victory over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Johnson hit a three-pointer while being fouled by Antonio Davis with 5.7 seconds remaining. His ensuing free throw gave the Knicks a 92-91 victory and completed the only four-point play of his career.

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Lions change quarterbacks again

PONTIAC, Mich., Oct. 10 (UPI) -- First-year Detroit Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg has changed his starting quarterback again and will go with Charlie Batch in Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Batch struggled in the Lions' season-opening, 28-6 loss at Green Bay, prompting a switch to Ty Detmer.

But Detmer threw seven interceptions -- one shy of an NFL record -- in a 24-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 23. Last Monday night, the Lions were inept on offense in a 35-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams, prompting Mornhinweg to reverse field.

"Charlie will not look back or look over his shoulder," Mornhinweg said. "We are behind Charlie 100 percent."

Detroit had just three possessions inside the St. Louis 30 on Monday night and turned the ball over each time. Detmer played the first half and went 14 of 17 for 143 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown. In the second half, Batch went 11 of 16 for 113 yards with an interception.


Jordan changes mind, will play in exhibitions

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Michael Jordan, who said just hours earlier he would skip the Washington Wizards' first two exhibition games this season, announced today he had changed his mind.

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With thousands of fans having bought tickets in the expectation they would see Jordan make his return to the court, the superstar said he would play limited minutes Thursday night at Detroit and on Saturday against the Miami Heat.

"After making my first announcement earlier today, I realized that many fans purchased tickets for these games to see me in my return," he said. "I don't want the fans to be disappointed, therefore I will alter my original plans and play in Detroit and Miami."

The Wizards host the New Jersey Nets in their first preseason home game on Oct. 20.


Alesi steps down from Formula One

SILVERSTONE, England, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Veteran driver Jean Alesi confirmed Wednesday he will retire from Formula One racing after the season finale in Japan this weekend.

Alesi, 37, previously was dropped by Team Jordan for the 2002 season in favor of 2001 British Formula 3 champion Takuma Sato of Japan.

"I will retire," said Alesi, a Frenchman who has one victory in 200 grand prix starts since 1989. He won the Canadian Grand Prix in 1995 while with Ferrari. "I will not race next year, but for the moment it is not completely clear what I will do. I will not drive Formula One anymore."

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Alesi has raced in Formula One for Ferrari, Benetton and Sauber Petronas, and left the Prost team earlier this season after a disagreement with team owner and long-time friend Alain Prost.


Patrik Stefan goes on injured reserve

ATLANTA, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Atlanta Thrashers center Patrik Stefan, who underwent surgery Monday to repair a broken jaw that will sideline him from four-to-six weeks, was placed on injured reserve today.

The move was made retroactive to Sunday.

Stefan had a plate and six screws inserted into his jaw. The first overall pick in the 1999 draft, Stefan had five goals and 20 assists last season.


Seles wins 10th straight match

SHANGHAI, China, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Top seed Monica Seles continued her hot streak today with a 43-minute victory over Saori Obata of Japan in the second round of the Kiwi Open.

Seles stretched her winning streak to 10 matches with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Obata. The 26-year-old American has won her last two tournaments in Brazil and Japan.

Seventh seed Rita Grande of Italy and Janet Lee of Taipei also reached the quarterfinals. Grande routed Ludmila Cervanova of Slovakia, 6-2, 6-2, and Lee dispatched Japan's Rika Fujiwara, 6-0, 6-4.

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D.C. United coach fired

CHANTILLY, Va., Oct. 10 (UPI) -- D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen, whose team to make the playoffs the last two seasons after winning the MLS title in 1999, was fired today.

D.C. United announced that it will not offer Rongen a contract extension when his current three-year deal expires on Dec. 31.

Rongen ended his tenure with a 82-90-8 record, including an 8-16-2 mark this season.

Ray Reid, who coached Connecticut to the NCAA title in 2000, has been mentioned as a possible replacement.

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