The Houston Chroncle’s Brian McTaggert on today’s executions at Ken Lay Field :

Tied for last place in the National League Central with about a month left in the regular season, the Astros fired general manager Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner this afternoon.

Astros owner Drayton McLane named president of baseball operations Tal Smith as interim general manager and bench coach Cecil Cooper (above) as interim manager. McLane wants to name a permanent general manager by the end of the season.

Cooper, 57, is the first African-American manager in Astros’ history. He is in his third year as bench coach and has experience a minor league manager and major league bench coach following a stellar 17-year playing career with the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.

œWe have the talent, Cooper said. œIt™s just a matter of us going out and playing like we™re supposed to, and believe me we will.

McLane said he wouldn™t consider bringing back former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker, who™s working for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Astros assistant general managers Ricky Bennett and David Gottfried will be given considering, but Tal Smith said his son Randy will not be in the mix to replace Purpura.

Purpura has been widely criticized this season for trading young pitchers Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz and outfielder Willy Taveras to Colorado for righthander Jason Jennings, who had been dealing with elbow issues. Jennings won two games and is out for the rest of the year with an elbow injury.Purpura also failed to sign the club™s third- and fourth-round draft picks this year, leaving them without a signed player in the first four rounds. They lost their first- and second-round picks after signing Carlos Lee and Woody Williams to free agency.

While Crawfish Boxes’ Stro Bro suspects Garner being booed during yesterday’s Jeff Bagwell jersey retirement ceremonies influenced McLane’s decision, Astros Dugout’s Lisa Gray has raised the terrifying specter of Steve Phillips becoming the new Houston GM.  Unsurprisingly, Phillips has not offered to tender his resignation from ESPN if his recent prediction that neither the Mets or Yankees would make the postseason turns out to be correct.