Rangers reliever Frank Francisco threw a chair at a fan in a lower box to the left of the visiting Rangers' bullpen along the right-field line in the ninth inning against the Athletics last night. The game ended too late for this edition.

The chair hit one man in the head, then bounced and clobbered a woman in the side of the head on her left temple.

The Rangers sprinted out of their dugout with two outs in the top of the ninth and reliever Doug Brocail could be seen screaming at a male fan. Brocail had to be restrained by his teammates and bullpen coach Mark Connor, and others also had to be held back.

Security ran to the scene and a small section of fans was cleared from their seats.

The incident caused a 19-minute delay.

Athletics Manager Ken Macha came across the field to speak to Dave Rinetti, vice president of stadium operations, before play resumed.

* WHY WAIT?: If the free-falling Mets have already decided to fire Manager Art Howe, he wants to be let go immediately instead of after the season.

"Why put me through this?" he said. "I'd rather have it happen now. There's no sense in waiting."

The Daily News reported yesterday that Mets owner Fred Wilpon was persuaded to fire Howe at the end of the season. Howe said he had not read the story, but GM Jim Duquette told him about it when he arrived at Shea Stadium. Howe repeatedly declined to comment while television cameras were rolling, then later chose to go back to the subject himself.

Duquette said no decision had been made on Howe's future, but did not guarantee that the manager would be back next year.

* GARCIAPARRA OUT: Cubs SS Nomar Garciaparra will miss at least five more days after tests showed he has a moderate strain of his right groin.

-- From News Services