The Astros fired manager Jimy Williams and replaced him with Phil Garner yesterday, a last-ditch effort to rescue a season that started with World Series expectations.

"We needed to make a move quickly," GM Gerry Hunsicker said at a news conference in Houston. "We needed to jump-start this club right now. We didn't have time to fool around here."

Garner, a former Astros player, is taking over on an interim basis. The team will conduct another search at the end of the season.

"I'm a Houston boy and I'm looking forward to it," said Garner, a former manager with the Tigers and Brewers.

Houston was 44-44 heading into the all-star break, a remarkable disappointment for a team that was tops in the NL Central for the first month and a half of the season.

Along with Williams, pitching coach Burt Hooton and hitting coach Harry Spilman also were fired. They were replaced with Jim Hickey and Gary Gaetti, respectively, from Class AAA New Orleans.

The Astros went into the all-star break losers of six of their final eight games, finishing the first half of the season in fifth place in the NL Central. The Astros are 101/2 games behind the division-leading Cardinals.

During pregame introductions at the All-Star Game Tuesday night, a sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park voiced its frustration by booing Williams. Williams doffed his cap, but was clearly embarrassed.

* ALL-STAR RATINGS: Television ratings for the All-Star Game were down from last year, hurt by the AL's six-run first inning. The AL's 9-4 win drew an 8.8 rating and a 15 share on Fox, down from last year's 9.5. However, the first half hour of Tuesday's broadcast was up 16 percent. Viewer interest diminished after the AL got out to the commanding early lead against NL starter Roger Clemens. By the second half hour, the rating was down 3 percent from last year.

* FOUL BALL VERDICT: Baseball fans can sue if they are injured by a foul ball around the concession areas in New Jersey's minor league ballparks.

The state appeals court in Newark overturned an earlier ruling Monday, allowing a Newark man who was hit in the face by a ball while at a concession stand to sue the Newark Bears and the food service company at Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium.

The appellate panel said that while fans who attend sporting events assume some risk of balls flying into the stands, that standard should not apply while they are at concession areas.

The judges said fans in those areas should have more protection because they can "let down their guard."

Louis Maisonave, 46, had a bone in his face broken when he was struck by a ball during a Bears game on Aug. 26, 1999, while standing in front of a vending cart.

-- From News Services