The Houston Astros couldn't wait until the end of the season to fire manager Cecil Cooper.

The Astros made the move on Monday and promoted third-base coach Dave Clark to interim manager. Clark made his major-league managing debut in Houston's 7-3 loss to St. Louis, the Astros' eighth straight loss.

"This is really bittersweet for me," Clark said. "I enjoyed my time with Coop, and you hate to see anybody lose their job. He brought me along to be his third-base coach, and here I am replacing him. It's not a real good day for me in that perspective. But the opportunity and chance I'm getting to manage the next two weeks is outstanding."

General manager Ed Wade said the team decided to fire Cooper before the end of the year for practical reasons, and to see what Clark could do in the job. The Astros have five home games this week, then play their final seven games on the road, in Philadelphia and New York.

"I thought it was going to be awkward to go all the way to the end of the season, come back from New York and make a move," Wade said. "The practicality of it didn't make sense and now we can put Dave in place, we can have a different set of circumstances working here for two weeks.

"Hopefully this creates a spark and gets us on a run so we can finish on a high note."

Wade added that more changes could be coming for a franchise just four years removed from its only World Series appearance.

A number of offseason moves fizzled and All-Star first baseman Lance Berkman and pitching ace Roy Oswalt have had subpar seasons.

"We're tasked with evaluating all aspects of our situation," Wade said. "At the end of the day, we're going to try to address those off-field issues that exist. We're not walking away from it. The issue we had to address here, in the short term, was the managerial issue and that's why we moved forward today."

The 59-year-old Cooper was hired on Aug. 27, 2007, to replace Phil Garner. Houston went 171-170 under Cooper, who was the bench coach under Garner between 2005-07.

Monday's loss dropped Houston to 70-80 and Berkman said the players are taking much of the blame for Cooper's dismissal.

"It stinks when you know that your performance, that you're responsible for somebody else's job security," Berkman said. "Say what you want, we didn't get it done on the field. The players have to take the full responsibility. Coop never threw a pitch or batted with runners in scoring position."

Wade said Clark would be considered a candidate during the search for a new manager.

Wade, owner Drayton McLane and president of baseball operations Tal Smith met with Cooper in his office on Monday afternoon to give him the news.

Cooper's initial contract ran through the 2009 season and the Astros picked up his option for 2010. Houston won 86 games in 2008, a 13-game turnaround from 2007. But this season, the Astros are guaranteed their second losing record in three seasons and only the third since 1991.

McLane pointed out that the Astros' payroll _ almost $103 million _ is among the highest in baseball and that he thought the assembled roster was capable of having a better season.

"We felt, at the time, and with the investment we made, that there was the potential to have a winning team here," McLane said. "We'd love to have had different things occur with the players we selected. It's just a very complicated process. It's not easy to say the manager, the coaches or the players or management (can be blamed). It all weaves together."

Cooper was a first-time major league manager and the first black manager in Astros history. He played 11 seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers and his hiring as Houston's manager got the personal blessing of commissioner Bud Selig, who owned the Brewers from 1977-87.

Houston is 311-323 since winning the NL pennant in 2005, and Berkman feels the franchise has been heading in the wrong direction.

"We haven't been to the playoffs in four years and it seems like we've been on a gradual downward spiral," he said. "You can't just point to one thing, I think there are several factors involved in that. But, if there was an environment for sweeping change or reform, this would be it."