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BREWERS' SEASON STRANGER THAN FICTION

A fan's attack on Houston Astros right fielder Bill Spiers was the latest event in what has turned out to be a strange season for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The manager has been fired and the general manager replaced. The dreams of opening a new stadium next April have crumbled, delayed a year after a construction accident killed three ironworkers.

All this as the Brewers head for their seventh consecutive losing season.

Things turned very strange Friday night during the sixth inning of Houston's 9-4 win over the Brewers. With the Astros leading, 2-1, a spectator suddenly went on the field and jumped on the unsuspecting Spiers from behind.

"To run out there and attack a player the way he did was unbelievable," Brewers interim manager Jim Lefebvre said. "Strange things have happened before, like the man stabbing Monica Seles. Obviously from now on, we have to think about it.

"In all my years of baseball, I've never heard or seen anything like that. To be honest, it's almost horrifying. It was just a terrible, isolated incident."

The spectator, a 23-year-old from South Beloit, Ill., was taken into custody pending possible charges. None had been filed as of Saturday.

Spiers said the incident left him with a sore neck. He is listed as day-to-day.

"I have a sore neck -- nothing major," Spiers said.

Spiers, who played six seasons with the Brewers, said he didn't consider it a personal attack.

"They're courteous, genuine people here," he said. "I've always said they're just like people down south. I enjoyed my years here -- definitely -- so I don't think it was aimed specifically at me."

Lefebvre said there was a report that the Illinois fan told his friends that Milwaukee right fielder Jeromy Burnitz was his target.

"He apparently wanted to hug and run with Burnie," Lefebvre said. "It turned into more than that and the way to stop it is to prosecute to the full extent of the law. They (police) will know what to do."

Burnitz said, "I'm glad he didn't do it to me. We've seen it before, but never anything like that. Anybody comes near me, I'll be sidestepping him."

Around the majors

Mark Portugal was in Boston's rotation most of the season and was second on the Red Sox with 150 1/3 innings. But the right-hander was released Friday night because of "his performance the second half of the season," general manager Dan Duquette said. Portugal was 7-12 with a 5.51 ERA and had not won since Aug. 4. He was taken out of the rotation after a Sept. 11 start against Yankees and appeared just twice in relief since then.

George Steinbrenner and his partners have signed an agreement to merge the business operations of his New York Yankees and the New Jersey Nets. An announcement of the merger, which will create a holding company for the two teams called YankeeNets, will be made next week, a source said. The agreement still remains subject to approval by Major League Baseball.

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