Mark McGwire was in a jovial mood after ending a drought of 24 at-bats without a homer by hitting No. 55 last night.

After McGwire hit a three-run shot in the St. Louis Cardinals' 11-5 victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, he joked that this might be his last season. The reason: He finally got to see Alan Benes, out since July 30, 1997 with two shoulder operations, pitch.

Benes was hurt a day before McGwire was acquired on the trading deadline from the Oakland Athletics.

"I'm going to seriously consider retirement after the season," McGwire said, tongue in cheek. "I've done everything I wanted to accomplish since coming over here, and one of them was seeing Alan Benes pitch. I don't need to do anything else."

McGwire has 512 career homers, tying Eddie Mathews and Ernie Banks for 12th on the career list. During the drought since he hit Nos. 53 and 54 on Sept. 3, he had three singles and one RBI.

"I've been seeing the ball fine," McGwire said. "When you don't get anything to hit, you're not going to do much, it's pretty self-explanatory."

McGwire's homer off Mike Williams in the eighth inning opened the door for Benes, because closer Ricky Bottalico had been warming up with a three-run lead. Benes, who was one of the NL's dominant pitchers when he was injured, struck out two and allowed a hit in the ninth.

ASTROS 6, CUBS 4: Carl Everett hit two home runs, the second a two-run shot in the 13th inning that gave host Houston its eighth straight win.

The win kept Houston three games ahead of Cincinnati in the NL Central.

Billy Wagner (4-1) pitched a perfect 13th inning, including a strikeout of Sammy Sosa on four straight fastballs. Sosa finished 0 for 6 with three strikeouts and remained at 59 homers.

Jeff Bagwell led off the 13th with a single off Chicago's fifth pitcher, Bobby Ayala (1-7), and Everett followed with his 23rd homer of the season, sending the Cubs to their fourth straight loss.

REDS 4, MARLINS 2: With just about everyone except the batboy hitting homers for Cincinnati in the past week, Barry Larkin was feeling left out.

He belatedly joined the Reds' power surge and paid for the tardy arrival with another round of teasing. Larkin hit his first homer since June 21 and Eddie Taubensee added a two-run shot against visiting Florida. Cincinnati has hit 25 home runs in eight games.

"The way everybody's been hitting home runs lately, they've become a big deal, but I'm not a home run hitter," said Larkin, who has 10 homers for the season. "I'm a line-drive hitter. Tonight was just a high line drive."

DIAMONDBACKS 3, PHILLIES 1: On his 36th birthday, Randy Johnson threw a six-hitter for host Arizona and set a personal best for strikeouts in a season.

Johnson (15-9) struck out seven Philadelphia batters, giving him 335 strikeouts for the season, the seventh-most in major league history. His previous best was 329 strikeouts, set last year with Seattle and Houston.

With four starts remaining, the 6-foot-10 left-hander needs 49 strikeouts to break the single-season record of 383 set by Nolan Ryan in 1973.

Johnson walked three in his major league-leading 11th complete game of the season. He lost his shutout in the ninth when Torey Lovullo hit into a run-scoring double play with the bases loaded. Johnson fell three strikeouts short of breaking Sandy Koufax's NL record for double-digit strikeout games in a season. Johnson and Koufax are tied with 21.

DODGERS 3, METS 1: Darren Dreifort pitched eight strong innings and Raul Mondesi homered to lead Los Angeles over visiting New York.

Dreifort (13-13) pitched at least seven innings for the fifth straight time, after doing it only twice in his first 24 starts. The right-hander gave up one run and four hits, walked two and struck out six. Jeff Shaw pitched the ninth for his 32nd save for the Dodgers, who had lost four straight.

ROCKIES 15, BREWERS 3: Brian Bohanon pitched eight strong innings and had two hits, including his first career home run, as Colorado pounded visiting Milwaukee.

Bohanon (12-11) gave up eight hits and allowed three runs. He went 2 for 3 with a walk and drove in three runs.

"I hadn't hit a home run since high school," said Bohanon.

PADRES 10, EXPOS 3: Phil Nevin hit two home runs and drove in a career-high five runs for host San Diego against Montreal.

BRAVES 4, GIANTS 2: In San Francisco, Russ Ortiz threw two straight wild pitches that allowed Atlanta's Chipper Jones to score the go-ahead run in the eighth.

The Braves have won 17 of their last 20 games. They became the first team in the majors to reach 90 victories.