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Sentence for probation violation delayed

MARIETTA, Ga. -- Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal was
cleared Wednesday to play in the postseason despite a probation
violation on a drunken-driving charge.

The ruling came hours before the Braves opened their divisional
playoff series with the Houston Astros. Furcal tripled in Atlanta's 9-3 loss.

Furcal must remain in home confinement for the rest of the
season. He has to return to a hotel if on the road, Judge David
Darden said.

Darden sentenced Furcal to 21 days in jail to be followed by a
28-day in-house treatment program. The judge delayed the start of
the sentence until the day after the Braves' season ends.

The judge also ruled Furcal may not drink alcohol or participate
in postgame celebrations. Most times, teams celebrate with
champagne when they win postseason series.

Furcal also must blow into a portable breath-testing machine
when called by a monitoring service affiliated with the probation
department. The machine, hooked up to a cell phone and video
camera, will relay the test results to officials.

"Don't take it lightly," Darden said. "The court is concerned
a second violation might indicate he has a problem with judgment
with regard to alcohol."

Furcal, 26, seemed surprised by the length of the sentence.

"That's a lot of days," he said during batting practice before
Game 1. "It's bad for me. I've never been in jail that long."

But he was glad to have at least part of his legal problems
resolved. Furcal still faces the drunken-driving charge, but his
lawyers hope to reach a deal in which any possible jail time would
be served at the same time as his sentence for the probation
violation.

"I wanted to put it out of the way and get my mind better,"
Furcal said. "Now I can focus on my game."

Furcal was 1-for-3 in the Braves' 9-3 loss to Houston. He walked twice and scored a run.

In the field, Furcal double-pumped twice on relay throws from
the outfield. He held the ball on one of the plays and followed
through with a late throw on the other, possibly costing the Braves
chances at plays at the plate.

Earlier, Furcal wore a warmup jacket with NBA star Allen
Iverson's nickname on the back and appeared in court with a Spanish
translator. A native of the Dominican Republic, he spoke little
during the hearing, answering "yes" or nodding several times when
the judge asked him if he understood the proceedings.

Furcal, the 2000 National League rookie of the year, batted .279
with 14 homers, 59 RBIs and 29 stolen bases this season.

He was arrested Sept. 10 and accused of driving under the
influence, his second DUI arrest in four years. That arrest
violated his probation in Cobb County for a June 2000 arrest on
similar charges.

Solicitor Barry Morgan said the sentence reflected that Furcal
had 49 days left on his probation. He was allowed to continue
playing because he accepted responsibility.

"I think one of the positive examples is that he has admitted
he has a problem," Morgan said.

Defense attorney William Head said Furcal has seen a counselor
since his September arrest.

"Mr. Furcal is very interested in turning this bad situation
into something positive down the road," Head said.

Asked if Furcal has a drinking problem, Braves president Terry
McGuirk said, "We're not aware of that and we don't think there's
such a problem. But we have to let the courts make their best
judgments and be supportive of what they decide."

Head said one of the most important issues for Furcal was making
sure the shortstop did not miss the postseason. If the Braves reach
the World Series, they could be playing until Oct. 31.

Players traditionally celebrate championships with champagne in
the clubhouse, but the judge ruled Furcal may not drink alcohol or
participate in postgame celebrations.

The judge also ruled Furcal may not drive at least until after
serving his sentence.

"It's been a rough experience," McGuirk said. "I think it's
something he's learned from. It will help him never make this
mistake again."