Cecil Cooper lost his first game as a full-time manager in the major leagues on Friday. He’ll try again for his first victory as his Houston Astros host the Atlanta Braves on Saturday in the middle game of a season-ending three-game series.
Cooper had served as Houston’s interim manager since Aug. 27, when the team fired Phil Garner and general manager Tim Purpura. He was 13-15 before new GM Ed Wade announced Cooper’s promotion Friday.
“It’s a great thrill for me,” said Cooper, who signed a two-year contract to become the first black manager in franchise history. “I’m very confident I can do this. I know I can do it.”
In spite of his confidence, Cooper has a tough road ahead of him. The Astros (71-89) have one of the worst records in the NL and need at least one win in their last two games to avoid their worst finish since 1991. Still, Cooper thinks he’s the right man for the job.
“I think I know exactly where we need to go and how to get there,” said Cooper, who had served as Houston’s bench coach since 2005. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but we know what we need to do. We’re going to take the steps. We’ve got some nice pieces. We’re going to get it done.”
The Astros struggled in Cooper’s full-time debut on Friday, managing only seven hits in a 7-2 loss to Atlanta.
The Braves (84-76) won for the ninth time in 12 games, but will finish with their worst record since 1990, when current manager Bobby Cox took over the team in the middle of a 65-97 season. Cox and the Braves made the postseason every year between 1991 and 2005, but will miss the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Braves will try to rebound behind Jeff Bennett (2-0, 2.57 ERA), who will look to win his third straight game since his contract was purchased from Triple-A Richmond on Sept. 19. Bennett, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2004 while with Milwaukee, won his first start Sept. 20 against Milwaukee. He got the decision in a 10-6 victory at Philadelphia on Tuesday after allowing one run in 1 1-3 innings of relief.
Bennett had a 5.00 ERA in six relief appearances against the Astros in 2004.
He’ll face Brandon Backe (2-1, 4.37), who has won his last two starts. He held St. Louis to two runs and six hits in six innings of a 6-3 victory last Friday—his fourth start since returning from right elbow surgery.
“I don’t have great stuff. I’m learning how to pitch at a lesser level than I hope to next year,” Backe told the Astros’ official Web site. “The way that I feel out there on the mound now, I think I can be a lot better, as far as stuff is concerned. I’m looking forward to next year, being completely healthy.”
Backe is 1-1 with a 7.43 ERA in four career games—including two starts— against the Braves, but hasn’t faced them since May 2005.