Bruce Benedict's only problem as the New York Mets' fill-in manager was finding his hat.

Benedict, taking over during Manager Bobby Valentine's two-game suspension, made the right moves yesterday as the Mets churned out a 5-2 victory over the Reds in Cincinnati.

Mike Piazza extended his hitting streak to 19 games, Brian McRae drove in three runs and the bullpen responded the way it has all season under Valentine.

"Was it a tough game to manage? No, I wouldn't think so," Benedict said. "We didn't have a lot of double-switch situations."

While Valentine watched from an overhead booth with General Manager Steve Phillips, Benedict adeptly handled a game that had plenty of tough outfield bounces but few tough decisions, except perhaps for which hat to wear.

"I've been here for three years and I hadn't forgotten my hat ever," said Benedict, who trotted out in the hat the Mets use for batting practice. "I was running a lot of things through my mind, typical things that happen -- the what-if's."

Benedict, who was 176-178 in four years as a minor league manager, took out the lineup card and then played it by the book as the Mets earned their eighth win in 10 games.

Valentine also will miss a game today in St. Louis, completing his two-game penalty from the NL for returning to the dugout in disguise after being ejected last week.

Both teams had trouble tracking down high hops in the outfield, and a misplay by Reds center fielder Mike Cameron turned the game.

With the score tied at 2 in the sixth, Piazza reached when third baseman Aaron Boone dropped his grounder for an error. Robin Ventura hit a liner to center that Cameron watched bounce over his head for a double, leaving runners on second and third.

BRAVES 3, ASTROS 1: Greg Maddux struck out a season-high 10 in 6 2/3 innings and retired 17 straight batters in Houston.

Maddux (6-4) surrendered three hits in winning for only the second time in nine starts. He still leads the NL in hits allowed at 124.

Maddux improved to 9-3 with a 1.85 ERA lifetime at the Astrodome. After Craig Biggio singled and Bill Spiers walked to start the first inning, Maddux did not permit another runner until Spiers doubled in the seventh.

Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox was ejected during the pitching change. He went to the mound and got into a heated exchange with plate umpire Bruce Froemming.

GIANTS 15, ROCKIES 2: In Denver, Jeff Kent homered twice and drove in six runs to help Mark Gardner win for the first time since September and reverse a 15-6 loss to Colorado the night before.

Rich Aurilia added three hits and a career-high five RBI for the Giants, who ended Colorado's four-game winning streak and prevented the Rockies (30-32) from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since early April.

Gardner (1-5) pitched a six-hitter to end a career-worst five-game losing streak that spanned 11 starts. His last win came Sept. 23 against Pittsburgh. It was his 15th career complete game.

BREWERS 11, CUBS 4: Hideo Nomo held Chicago to two runs in seven-plus innings in Milwaukee. Nomo (4-1) even drove in Milwaukee's first run with a single in the second inning off Steve Trachsel (2-9).

CARDINALS 5, EXPOS 4: Kent Bottenfield (10-3) became the NL's second 10-game winner and Fernando Tatis hit homer No. 16 in St. Louis.

DIAMONDBACKS 12, MARLINS 6: Matt Williams hit his 19th home run and Tony Womack had a three-run double to complete a three-game sweep in Phoenix.

PHILLIES 4, PADRES 2: Randy Wolf followed his successful major league debut with an even stronger effort, holding host San Diego to five hits in eight innings and getting his first hit. Wolf (2-0) won his debut on Friday, allowing one earned run and six hits in 5 2/3 innings in beating Toronto.

DODGERS 6, PIRATES 5: Gary Sheffield and Devon White homered and Adrian Beltre drove in the go-ahead run with a seventh-inning single as host Los Angeles stopped a four-game losing streak and a seven-game skid against the Pirates.

CAPTION: Going! Going! Gone!

Robin Ventura gets a hand from coach Cookie Rojas after his homer as Mets -- minus Manager Bobby Valentine -- beat Cubs. Story on Page D7.

CAPTION: Dave Nilsson lays down a bunt and later scored on Hideo Nomo's single as Brewers pummeled Cubs, 11-4.