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METS LET A BIG ONE SLIP AWAY

Mike Lieberthal's RBI single off Armando Benitez capped a two-run eighth-inning rally that gave the Philadelphia Phillies a 3-2 victory over the Mets on Friday night, New York's fourth straight loss.

The Mets are now five games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and just one ahead of Cincinnati for the wild card.

"It's like we're on the beach and the tide went out and we're stuck on the beach," Mets catcher Mike Piazza said. "Hopefully, the tide will come back in and get us going. It's like we're out of gas right now."

The Mets, still stunned from their three losses to Atlanta, further jeopardized their playoff hopes by blowing a 2-1 lead.

After Masato Yoshii pitched seven strong innings, Dennis Cook started the eighth and walked pinch hitter Kevin Sefcik. Cook kicked the mound angrily when he was replaced by Turk Wendell, who retired Doug Glanville and Ron Gant.

But manager Bobby Valentine brought in right-handed closer Benitez (3-3) to face the left-handed hitting Bobby Abreu, who is second in the league in batting. With first base open, after a steal, Abreu doubled home Sefcik on a full count for the tying run.

"After we were swept in Atlanta, that's all I thought about," Yoshii said, "that I had to win this game. . . . I'm a bit shocked right now."

Lieberthal hit Benitez's first pitch to right, scoring Abreu with the go-ahead run for the Phillies' fifth win in 28 games.

Astros fight way to win

MILWAUKEE -- Houston rallied with four runs in the eighth inning for a 9-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in a game marred by a fan's attack on Astros right fielder Bill Spiers.

The victory allowed the NL Central-leading Astros to stay 2 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnati.

Before the Brewers batted in the sixth, a 23-year-old fan from Illinois came out of the box seats along the right-field line and tackled Spiers from behind.

Astros starter Mike Hampton led the charge as the entire Astros team came to Spiers defense. The attacker, whose name was not immediately released, was beaten and kicked before being led off in handcuffs by Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies.

Spiers had a welt under his left eye and appeared to have a bloody nose. The Astros said Spiers was suffering from whiplash and was day-to-day.

Reds rally for big win

CINCINNATI -- Sean Casey's check-swing single drove in a pair of runs during a four-run sixth inning that rallied the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Reds kept Mark McGwire stuck at 59 homers and overcame a three-run deficit set up by their throwing errors.

"That's the biggest win we've had all year, no question about it," manager Jack McKeon said. "The way we came back after being down 4-1 -- if that doesn't give us a lift, I don't know what will."

With Cincinnati trailing, 4-1, Jeffrey Hammonds led off the sixth with a homer, his third hit off Darren Oliver, and the Reds sent nine batters to the plate in all against four pitchers to take the lead.

Guillen's homer beats Expos

MONTREAL -- Ozzie Guillen's first homer in more than a year gave the Atlanta Braves their fifth straight win, 4-3, in 10 innings over the Montreal Expos.

Guillen, whose last homer came June 24, 1998 against the New York Yankees, hit a 2-2 pitch from Guillermo Mota (2-4) in the right-field stands with two outs for his 26th career homer in 6,570 career at-bats.

Atlanta lowered its magic number for clinching its eighth straight division title to four.

Around the horn

Sammy Sosa is still 0-for-Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field. A brisk wind off Lake Michigan denied him No. 62, leaving Sosa homerless for a fifth straight game. But the Cubs didn't need Sosa's power as Roosevelt Brown hit a three-run triple and drove in another run, Shane Andrews had three RBIs and Kyle Farnsworth scattered three hits and two walks over seven innings for a 9-0 victory over the Pirates. . . . Kevin Brown (18-8) allowed one runs and five hits in eight strong innings and drove in the go-ahead run as the Dodgers beat the Padres, 5-1. . . . Todd Helton homered and added a tie-breaking two-run triple in the eighth inning as the Rockies defeated the Marlins, 5-3.

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