HOUSTON – Craig Biggio hopes to reach a deal with the Astros on a one-year contract by Saturday to avoid filing for free agency.

Barry Axelrod, Biggio’s agent, said progress has been made on a contract and that he continues to negotiate daily with Houston general manager Tim Purpura.

“We’re slowly edging toward getting something done,” Axelrod said Tuesday. “We’re working hard at it. I don’t think either side is excited about Craig filing for free agency. We would rather get it done without having to do that.”

Players may file for free agency through Saturday and are eligible to sign with any team beginning the next day. Axelrod said the second baseman would rather not file for free agency because of his long relationship with the team and how it might be perceived to some.

Biggio had 135 hits last season to push his career total to 2,930. He had 33 doubles, 21 home runs and 62 RBIs, batting .246. Biggio, who turns 41 next month, has spent his entire 19-year career with the Astros and has always said he’d like to finish his career in Houston.

While not going so far as to say he’s confident that a deal will be reached this week, Axelrod said he expects “we’re going to reach a resolution” for Biggio to remain with the Astros.

Biggio’s teammates Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte filed for free agency on Monday. The pitchers aren’t sure whether they want to pitch next season.

Phillies expected to pursue Soriano

PHILADELPHIA -Hoping to protect Ryan Howard in the middle of their lineup, the Philadelphia Phillies are expected to make a strong push for Alfonso Soriano.

A five-time All-Star, Soriano batted .277 with 46 homers, 95 RBIs and 41 steals this year in his first season with the Washington Nationals. He joined Jose Canseco (Oakland 1988), Barry Bonds (San Francisco 1996) and Alex Rodriguez (Seattle 1998) as the only players with 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season.

Howard homers again as MLB stars prevail

OSAKA, Japan – Ryan Howard came through again for the MLB All-Stars.

The Philadelphia Phillies slugger hit a tiebreaking homer in the top of the eighth inning Tuesday, powering the major leaguers to a 7-2 victory over the stars of Japanese baseball for a 4-0 lead in the five-game series.

Howard, who led the majors with 58 homers this season, delivered on a 3-2 pitch for his fourth homer of the series.

Reliever Mike Myers of the New York Yankees went 1 1-3 scoreless innings for the win.

Gooden to be released from prison Thursday

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former baseball star Dwight Gooden is set to be released from prison Thursday after finishing a sentence for violating his probation by using cocaine. With gain time and credit for 93 days already served in the Hillsborough County Jail and in a secure drug treatment facility, his total prison time will be about seven months. He had been sentenced to a year and a day. Last April, Gooden chose to accept prison time instead of an offer of probation.

If he had violated probation, he would faced the prospect of five years in prison.

The 41-year-old was serving three years’ probation for speeding away from police during a drunken driving traffic stop last year when he failed a drug test and acknowledged to a probation officer that he had used cocaine.

Gooden was the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year and 1985 NL Cy Young Award winner while with the New York Mets. He went 194-112 with a 3.51 ERA before retiring in 2001. He also pitched for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

In 1994, while with the Mets, Gooden was suspended for 60 days for testing positive for cocaine. He tested positive for cocaine again while on suspension and was sidelined for the 1995 season.

Another Mets and Yankees star, Darryl Strawberry, was released from the same prison on April 8, 2003, after serving 11 months of an 18-month prison sentence for violating probation on cocaine possession charges.

AP-ES-11-07-06 1759EST



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