Garner's presence sparked run to playoffs

HOUSTON -- The interim tag is no longer necessary. Phil Garner will remain the manager of the Houston Astros.

In a move that was expected for weeks, Garner was officially retained by the Astros on Wednesday. He was hired just two days after Tim Purpura replaced Gerry Hunsicker as the franchise's general manager.

"I feel real good about this. I feel very comfortable here and with Tim," he said. "I think this is a good fit for me."

Garner, 55, took over on an interim basis after Jimy Williams was fired during the All-Star break and guided the Astros within a victory of their first World Series berth.

Garner was perhaps Houston's most significant addition after a midseason swoon left them 44-44. Known as Scrap Iron during his playing days, Garner infused enthusiasm in a veteran club that was close-knit but rarely animated.

Houston reeled off 36 wins in its final 46 games to clinch the NL wild card, beat Atlanta to win a playoff series for the first time in club history and came a few outs from knocking off St. Louis in the NLCS.

"The second half of the 2004 season was among the most exciting in franchise history," owner Drayton McLane said in a statement. "We feel Phil's leadership had a tremendous impact on the success of our team ... we look forward to having him as a manager as we continue toward our goal of winning a World Series championship."

Garner signed a two-year contract, with a club option for another year. Terms of the deal weren't released.

Pointing to Garner's success with the club, McLane sought and received permission from commissioner Bud Selig to hire Garner without going through the league-mandated selection process.

Garner and Purpura met extensively over the past two days before finally agreeing to terms late Wednesday afternoon.

"We are excited to have him back on board to continue the momentum we started last season," Purpura said at a news conference. "I look forward to a long and prosperous

Garner has already gotten off to quite a start in Houston after never coming close to the postseason in his first two stints as a manager of terrible teams in Milwaukee and Detroit. He had been out of baseball for two years when Hunsicker approached him about the job in early July.

He will almost immediately begin work on putting together next year's team.

Garner and other Astros officials are making plans to visit free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran in his native Puerto Rico later this week in an effort to get him to re-sign. Improving team speed and upgrading the defense are also top priorities, along with
straightening out the pitching staff.

"It's important to have quality people on the club," Garner said. "The bar has been raised and the expectations are higher."

Garner, an infielder with the Astros from 1981-87, has kept a home in the Houston area since his playing days. He joined Bob Lillis, Art Howe and Larry Dierker as former players who have gone on to manage the team.

Garner's first job as a manager came with Milwaukee in 1992, and he led the Brewers to a 92-70 record and a second-place finish in the AL East. That proved to be his best season there, and Garner was ultimately fired by Milwaukee after 112 games in 1999.

The Tigers hired Garner in 2000, going 145-179 over the next two seasons before firing him after they lost the first six games of the 2002 season. His dismissal tied the quickest firing of a manager who started the season since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Baltimore fired Cal Ripken Sr. in 1988 after the Orioles lost six games en route to an 0-21 start.

The Astros also announced that bench coach John Tamargo, in his sixth season with the club, would not be part of the staff next season.