MILWAUKEE (AP) -Houston Astros interim manager Cecil Cooper tells his players not to throw in the towel just because their situation looks bleak. And he ought to know.
Many of them are too young to remember - and star center fielder Hunter Pence hadn't even been born yet - but it was Cooper's game-winning hit that fueled the Milwaukee Brewers' improbable ALCS comeback against the California Angels to put them in the World Series 25 years ago.
``Biggest hit in my life,'' Cooper said.
And arguably the biggest hit in franchise history.
``Yeah, that was a big thrill,'' Cooper said. ``It was fun. And I kind of just think about all those days, it was a lot of fun - fun team, some great guys.''
While the Brewers have been holding a season-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of their only World Series appearance - and hope to have another World Series run with this year's team - Cooper is too busy to spend much time reveling in the past.
A few weeks ago, Cooper had to miss an '82 Brewers reunion because he was the Astros' bench coach under manager Phil Garner. Now Garner has been fired, and Cooper returns to Milwaukee for the first time as a major league manager for a three-game series against his former team and a former teammate, Brewers manager Ned Yost.
Yost said he was happy to see ``Coopy,'' a man a likes and respects, get a shot at managing a major league club.
``This is a nice little audition for him,'' Yost said. ``It gives him enough time to show that he's more than capable of doing the job.''
Cooper, who got a warm ovation from Brewers fans after he was introduced before the game, said it never would have occurred to him 25 years ago that he and Yost both would end up managing in the majors. Yost was a backup catcher for the '82 Brewers.
``Well, back then I didn't even think about this,'' Cooper said. ``So it is kind of ironic that here we are, you know, competing against each other.''
Cooper took over a week ago after Astros owner Drayton McLane fired Garner and general manager Tim Purpura. Cooper was appointed interim manager - essentially giving him a tryout to win the job next season.
For now, Cooper said he isn't worrying about wins and losses. His main goal right now is to get the Astros to play better and more exciting baseball.
``Just because it's September, you can't throw in the towel, you know?,'' Cooper said. ``You have to continue to play and play aggressive and have fun and enjoy the game and go out and compete every day. And to this point, I've been very, very pleased. The guys have done just that.''
Cooper's credentials are solid. The five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner began working in the Brewers organization in 1997 and filled a variety of roles, most recently as bench coach in Milwaukee in 2002 and manager of the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate from 2003-04.
Cooper also has a friend in a very high place: baseball commissioner and former Brewers owner Bud Selig. In a television interview last week, Selig said he would like to see the Astros make Cooper their full-time manager.
Cooper said he appreciated the commissioner's support, and hoped to see Selig in Milwaukee this week.
Still, Cooper might face an uphill battle when it comes to winning the job full time because the Astros haven't named a permanent general manager.
``That's very, very tough too,'' Yost said. ``Because a lot of times, new GMs want to bring their own people in, because it's their job and they want to bring in people that they trust.''
For now, Cooper is just trying to prove he can handle the job.
And while Cooper said he's happy to see many of the young players he worked with in the Brewers' organization - such as Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart - have success, he hopes his team will keep them quiet this week.
``They're all good kids and good individuals,'' Cooper said. ``I'm proud of them, to see them doing what they're doing. But we're going to try to beat the pants off them these three days.''

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