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Astros profit by Alou's obstinacy

At least three times last season, Houston team officials approached outfielder Moises Alou about waiving a no-trade clause so they could send him tothe Yankees, Red Sox or Pirates.

Everything fell through and Alou remained in Houston.

Now in the final year of his contract, the 35-year-old is making $5.2-million and putting together another solid season.

Alou, who played in his fourth All-Star Game on Tuesday in Seattle, was second in the National League with a .362 average and had 33 multi-hit games at the break.

The Astros are chasing the Cubs in the NL Central, but Alou's future with the team remains in doubt because of fiscal concerns.

"I'm in a very good situation right now," Alou said. "I feel as good as I ever have. I'm on a good team and have good players around me. Whatever happens will be okay. If I go as a free agent or stay in Houston, I'm not going to worry."

Asked recently if he believed general manager Gerry Hunsicker and owner Drayton McLane Jr. would re-sign him, Alou wasn't sure.

"A couple of weeks ago, I would have said no way," he said. "We're playing a lot better now, and we have a good shot at winning this division. I really feel that way. I'm not worried about it. I've been a free agent before."

TROPHY TRAVELS: Talk about laid back.

Moments after winning the All-Star Game Home Run Derby by beating Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, Tampa's Luis Gonzalez handed over his trophy to the clubhouse attendants.

"The clubhouse guys said, "Hey, are you going to take it?' I didn't know," the Jefferson High alumnus said. "I said, "Take it around like the Stanley Cup. Take it to the bars, do whatever you want with it.' "

But as Gonzalez walked back onto the field for pictures with the trophy, he had to ask a member of the clubhouse crew for permission to borrow the trophy back so he could take pictures with it and his family.

"They got all nervous," Gonzalez said. "I said, "Guys, I don't care. I want to share this with everybody.' I'm not the type of guy who is going to keep it in my closet. I let them take it."

The hardware has remained in Seattle since.

Gonzalez and his Arizona teammates start a three-game series with the Mariners today, and the trophy will leave in the arms of its rightful owner Tuesday.

ON THE WARM SEAT: Royals manager Tony Muser, who has a .427 winning percentage (279-374) in four-plus seasons as the Royals manager, received a vote of confidence from owner David Glass recently.

"Tony's done a good job," Glass said. "He's a good man. He's very, very intense. I get a lot of people calling and saying, "Why don't you fire Muser?'

"And I've said before a number of times that when people get rid of a manager it's generally when they lose control of the team and the players don't want to play for them anymore or they can't get the players to perform.

"These guys respect Tony Muser, they want to play for him and they'd all fight for him. And on that basis, I think Tony is doing everything he can with what he has."

ONE MAN'S VIEW: News that Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki were cutting off interviews with Japanese media irked at least one their countrymen.

Anaheim relief pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa told the Associated Press he was "a little sad to hear that."

"The Japanese media has a job to do, but Ichiro and Sasaki also have a job to do," Hasegawa said. "The fans in Japan want to know about American baseball, and also about them. We're not actors or singers, but Ichiro is much bigger than a rock star; he's like Michael Jordan. I don't think the media in the ballpark are the problem. It's their bosses who want to know everything."

BY THE NUMBERS: Eight seasons ago the Rockies set a major-league record by going an entire season without pitching a shutout.

Times, and pitchers, have changed at Coors Field.

Pedro Astacio's complete-game shutout against the Padres on July 5 marked the Rockies' fifth of the season, equaling a franchise record.

Cleveland's Jim Thome could break one of his team's oldest records this season. At the start of the second half the first baseman needed 39 walks to pass Tris Speaker, who last played for the Indians in 1926 and walked 857 times with Cleveland.

THE LAST WORD: "If someone tells me, "Hey, I saw you on the news the other night,' then I know it wasn't good. Most of the time, if I'm on TV it's because I gave it up. If I've done my job, they show (closer) Billy (Koch) with his funny beard striking out the last guy of the game." _ Toronto relief pitcher Paul Quantrill, one of three middle relievers selected by Yankees manager Joe Torre for the All-Star Game.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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