Braves hope six-time All-Star Wagner solidifies bullpen

The Atlanta Braves took another major step toward solidifying their pitching staff for next season, agreeing Wednesday to a $7 million, one-year contract with closer Billy Wagner.

“The bullpen is one of the areas we needed to upgrade to get where we want to go,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “Billy was at the top of our list. The first day of free agency, we gave him a call.”

The six-time All-Star gets $6.75 million in 2010, and his deal includes a $6.5 million club option for 2011 with a $250,000 buyout. The option would become guaranteed if he finishes 50 games next season.

Also: Get ready for more postseason baseball games — and fewer off days.

Players would like to see the first round of playoffs expand to best-of-7 when their next labor contract starts in 2012, Michael Weiner said in his first news conference since replacing Donald Fehr as the union head.

“I think a properly constructed postseason schedule could accommodate three seven-game series but still have it extend over a shorter period of time than what happened this year,” Weiner said.

The first round has been best-of-5 since it began in 1995.

The San Diego Padres have signed Dick Enberg to a multiyear deal to do television play-by-play. The official announcement is expected today.

Enberg will do 110 to 120 games. He’s expected to continue to broadcast Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.


U.S. nervously awaits draw for World Cup; France not seeded

France will not be a seeded team for Friday’s World Cup draw, meaning Les Bleus could face powerful teams such as Brazil or Spain in the group stage.

World Cup draws haven’t been kind to the United States, and Friday’s could go a long way to determining whether the Americans get out of the first round in June or make a quick exit, like in 2006.

FIFA, soccer’s governing body, put the U.S. in pot two Wednesday, which means the Americans can’t play a team from Asia or New Zealand in the first round. The U.S. will be drawn into a group with one opponent from each of the other three pots:

— One (seeded teams): Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa.

— Three (Africa and South America): Algeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Paraguay, Uruguay.

— Four (Europe): Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland.

Also: FIFA rejected the use of extra match officials at the 2010 World Cup, instead opening a disciplinary case against France’s Thierry Henry for a hand ball in the World Cup playoff against Ireland.

Henry’s hand ball led to a goal and eliminated Ireland.


Duval, Parnevik trail Merritt at PGA Tour qualifying tourney

Troy Merritt shot a 5-under-par 67 to lead a field of 170 players after the first round of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament at West Palm Beach, Fla.

Merritt has a one shot lead over Jay Williamson.

Ty Harris, Billy Horschel and Andrew Buckle were another shot back after 3-under 69s.

Other notable scores included David Duval with a 71, Jesper Parnevik at 73, Tim Herron at 74 and former British Open champion Todd Hamilton at 76.

Also: Bernard Hopkins defeated Enrique Ornelas by unanimous decision in a light heavyweight bout, sweeping the scorecards to the delight of his hometown fans in Philadelphia.

Hopkins turned it on in the 12th round and punished Ornelas (29-6) over the final 10 seconds. Had he started earlier in the round, Hopkins (50-5-1, 32 knockouts) might have won by knockout.

Tour de France stage winners Yaroslav Popovych of the Ukraine and Gert Steegmans of Belgium will ride for Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack team when it makes its world debut at the Tour Down Under cycle race in Adelaide in January.

Serena and Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Svetlana Kuznetsova will play a one-night exhibition for the Billie Jean King Cup at New York’s Madison Square Garden in March.

Serena Williams and Clijsters could stage a rematch of their U.S. Open semifinal a few miles away, which ended with Williams’ tirade at a line judge that cost her a record $82,500 fine.

Foge Fazio, who succeeded Jackie Sherrill as football coach at alma mater Pittsburgh and later was a defensive coordinator for the NFL’s Vikings and Browns, died following a lengthy battle with leukemia. He was 71. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson confirmed Faizo’s death.

Fazio’s first Pitt team, quarterbacked by Dan Marino, began the season ranked No. 1 and started 7-0, then lost three of its final five as the Panthers’ offense struggled. His 1983 team went 8-3-1, but he was fired with two years left on his contract following a 31-0 loss to Penn State in 1985.

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