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Astros Win 'Big Unit' Sweepstakes

The Houston Astros won out in the year-long pursuit of Randy Johnson, acquiring the Big Unit from Seattle on Friday night for two minor leaguers and a player to be named.

The New York Yankees and Cleveland also sought Johnson up until baseball's trading deadline of midnight ET.

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But the NL Central-leading Astros won out in the end, acquiring the 1995 AL Cy Young winner for infielder Carlos Guillen, pitching prospect Freddy Garcia and a future player.

"We identified all along our primary need was a No. 1 starter, and we got one of the dominating starters in the game," Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "It's been a long night, and I didn't think we had much of a chance, but we were able to pull it off."

In the Mariners' dressing room after a 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees, David Segui -- who had a recent shoving match with Johnson -- said the Seattle players were disappointed with the trade.

"You lose a No. 1 starter for two minor league guys," Segui said. "How does that help the club? I wouldn't classify this as a move to help us win the pennant. They basically gave him away for nothing."

Seattle's fourth loss in a row left the Mariners a dozen games under .500 and 10 games behind first-place Anaheim.

Johnson wasn't on the Mariners' bench during the game and left the Seattle clubhouse before reporters were allowed in after the game.

"I talked to Randy briefly a little after 9 o'clock when I was informed," manager Lou Piniella said. "He didn't react much right away."

The Mariners attempted to put a good spin on what was interpreted as a disappointing return for Johnson.

"It was our goal to look for young players,"/b> general manager Woody Woodward said. "The true test will come in time."

Team president Chuck Armstrong was asked if the Mariners owed Johnson an apology for not extending his contract into the 1999 season, when the club will move into a new outdoor stadium.

"I don't think we owe anyone an apology," Armstrong said. "We appreciate everything Randy has done."

Johnson, 34, asked for a trade during the off-season after Seattle refused to extend his contract. The 6-foot-10 left-hander is eligible to become a free agent after the season.

He is 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA in 23 starts this season and leads the AL with 213 strikeouts. He lost to Cleveland on Tuesday night, his second straight defeat after consecutive shutouts.

Johnson joins a rotation that has included Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds, Jose Lima, Sean Bergman and Pete Schourek.

"We heard before the game we were in the running for Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens, but you can't get too excited about it because of the teams that were in it," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "You know we're the low market, and our chances of getting either one were probably slim."

The Yankees dropped out when Seattle insisted on obtaining Hideki Irabu, who ran his record to 10-4 with the Yankees' 5-3 victory over Seattle.

"We discussed a lot of things with a lot of different clubs, but the price to try to improve at this time was just too high," general manager Brian Cashman said. "We like this team and have a great deal of confidence in it."

Yankees manager Joe Torre said he was happy to see Johnson out of the AL.

"If we have to face Randy now, it will be in the World Series and that is a good sign for me," he said. "I'll take my chances."

Guillen, 22, was batting .295 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs for Houston's Triple-A New Orleans affiliate.

Garcia, a 21-year-old right-hander, was 1-0 with a 3.14 ERA in two games at New Orleans. He was 6-7 with a 3.24 ERA at Double-A Jackson.

The Mariners are expected to try left-hander Paul Spoljaric in their rotation to replace Johnson. He probably will start against the Yankees on Sunday.

In 41 relief appearances this season, Spoljaric is 3-2 with a 5.64 ERA. He has three blown saves in three opportunities.

His only major league start was with Toronto in 1994. In his major league debut, he lasted 1-3 of an inning and gave five earned runs to the Chicago White Sox.

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