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Lance Berkman retiring after 15 seasons in big leagues

Six-time All-Star Lance Berkman is retiring after 15 seasons in the major leagues.

Berkman almost left the game last offseason before signing with the Texas Rangers. He then had another injury-plagued season that limited him to 73 games.

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The 37-year-old Berkman was the first overall pick by Houston in 1997 out of Rice, and played 12 seasons for the Astros. He played 1,879 career games, all but 287 of them for Houston.

The Astros said in a release Wednesday night that Berkman was one of the greatest players in team history.

He finished the 2010 season with the New York Yankees before two years in St. Louis, where he was part of the 2011 World Series champions.

Berkman finished as a .293 career hitter with 366 home runs and 1,234 runs batted in.


Mickelson will play this week

Phil Mickelson is going ahead with his Phoenix Open title defense after testing his ailing lower back at exclusive Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I had a good practice session, though I didn’t go full speed for much of it,” Mickelson said in a statement. “I feel fine. I expect to play, and play well.”

He first felt soreness two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, and then withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open on Friday after making the cut at Torrey Pines. He flew to Georgia to see back specialist Tom Boers and was told his facet joints locked up.

Last year at TPC Scottsdale, the former Arizona State star opened with an 11-under 60 and matched the Phoenix Open record of 28 under. He is set to make his 25th start in the event that he also won in 1996 and 2005.

Mickelson lived in the Phoenix area for 12 years.

“If it was any other tournament I’d skip it,” Mickelson said this week. “But I’m defending, it’s my second hometown and I love the event.”

Auto racing

Another Petty inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame

The Petty dynasty is now completely represented in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.

Maurice Petty was formally inducted Wednesday night into the Hall, joining his father, brother and cousin as members of the exclusive group.

Maurice Petty was the first member of the fifth class to be inducted during Wednesday night’s ceremony. “The Chief” was inducted by brother Richard Petty, the seven-time NASCAR champion and member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class.

“The big deal is that it’s really the end of Petty Enterprises because we started in 1949, and now that my brother is in the Hall of Fame, then that pretty well closes the book on it,” Richard Petty said.

Maurice Petty is the first engine builder to be inducted into the Hall. His engines won seven titles and more than 200 races, including seven Daytona 500s.

Also in the Hall from the Petty Enterprise dynasty is patriarch Lee Petty, and the Petty boys’ cousin and crew chief, Dale Inman.

In other NASCAR news, Team Penske has filled a schedule for 20-year-old driver Ryan Blaney that will get him at least two Sprint Cup Series starts this year.

Blaney was already scheduled to run the full Truck Series schedule for Brad Keselowski Racing. But the Penske organization said Wednesday they’ve added 15 Nationwide Series races to his schedule. Blaney will also be entered in the Cup races at Kansas in May and Talladega in October in the No. 12 SKF Ford Fusion.


Reports of security threats have been increasing

There has been an uptick in reports of security threats against next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but the key concern for an attack centers on locations outside the main event areas, a top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that there is extensive security at the sports venues in Sochi.

But, he added, “The greater threat is to softer targets in the greater Sochi area, and in the outskirts, beyond Sochi, where there is a substantial potential for a terrorist attack.”


High-scoring Manchester City moved into the Premier League lead, scoring four times in the second half to rout Tottenham 5-1 Wednesday night.

City (17-4-2) moved one point ahead of Arsenal (16-3-4) and three in front of Chelsea (15-3-5), which was held to a 0-0 tie at home by West Ham. City has 68 goals in the league this season with 15 games remaining, two goals more than it scored in all of last season.’

“There is still no silverware. A lot of games are to be played,” said Vincent Kompany, City’s captain.

• Russian biathlete Irina Starykh, the reigning women’s European champion, has been suspended for a doping violation just a week before the Olympic opening ceremony in Sochi, according to Russian reports. The suspension dealt a blow to the Olympics host country and cast a pall over one of Russia’s signature sports.

Starykh, 26, was one of three biathletes suspended by the International Biathlon Union after testing positive for an unidentified substance. They were suspended pending a second test that serves as confirmation.

• The Los Angeles Galaxy is becoming the first team in Major League Soccer to operate a lower-division farm club.

The Galaxy will create an LA Galaxy II that will compete in the United Soccer Leagues’ Professional Division.

• Top-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia maintained her dominance over Daniela Hantuchova, thrashing the Slovak player 6-0, 6-1 to reach the Open GDF Suez quarterfinals in Paris.

The four-time Grand Slam champion has beaten Hantuchova nine straight times.

• With Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens pulling out because of injuries, the U.S. Fed Cup team will field an inexperienced roster of Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis against Italy.

The first-round matches are Feb. 8-9 in Cleveland.

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