The New York Mets broke a seven-game losing streak with a 9-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves last night at Shea Stadium, but the win may have come too late to save their season. The Astros' 4-1 victory over the Reds tied Houston and Cincinnati for the National League Central lead, putting both teams 1 1/2 games ahead of New York in the wild-card race.

Houston's Mike Hampton became the National League's first 21-game winner this season, allowing one run and seven hits in eight innings with eight strikeouts in the victory.

New York had a team-record nine hits in the fourth inning of its game last night, preventing Atlanta pitcher Greg Maddux (19-9) from picking up his 20th victory this season and stopping the Braves' eight-game winning streak.

In the American League postseason race, the Boston Red Sox will return to the playoffs for the second consecutive season, gaining a berth with a 6-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox in the first game of a doubleheader yesterday in Chicago. They will face either Cleveland or Texas in a best-of-five first-round series. Boston's consecutive playoff berths are its first since 1915-1916.

"We know what lies ahead. But we want to relish the moment," Boston Manager Jimy Williams said. "We are a playoff team, one of four [in the American League]. It's a good feeling."

The Red Sox (91-67) still have a slim chance of overtaking the New York Yankees (95-62) for the American League East title. The Yankees and Orioles were rained out in Baltimore last night.

While Boston was celebrating its trip to the playoffs, Mark McGwire was making some noise at the plate, hitting home runs in both of the St. Louis Cardinals' games yesterday. He now has 63 home runs for the season; Sammy Sosa went homerless in the Chicago Cubs' 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies to remain at 62 home runs for the year.