The New York Mets staved off playoff elimination for another day.

The slumping Robin Ventura homered in the fourth inning, then hit a bases-loaded single in the 11th to lead the Mets to just their second win in 10 games, a 3-2 victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates last night.

"We're hanging by the skin of our teeth," Ventura said. "But we'll just keep showing up and see what happens."

Mike Piazza also homered for the Mets, who had gone from four games up in the NL wild-card race with 12 games remaining to two back heading into their final series.

To make the postseason for the first time since 1988, the Mets will need a near miracle, and they got help last night when Cincinnati and Houston lost. The Mets must win the final two games against Pittsburgh while the Astros or Reds lose once, or New York must win once and hope Houston or Cincinnati drops its last two.

New York blew a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning before rallying to win in the 11th.

While Scott Sauerbeck (4-1) was throwing his warmup pitches, the scoreboard showed that Milwaukee tied Cincinnati in the ninth inning and Houston lost, leading to a standing ovation from the crowd at Shea Stadium.

Pinch hitter Shawon Dunston singled and Melvin Mora bunted him to second. After Edgardo Alfonzo was intentionally walked, John Olerud grounded out. Sauerbeck intentionally walked Piazza before Ventura lined a single to center to win the game.

"It's happening. It's all happening," Mets Manager Bobby Valentine said. "We finally got some breaks. I'll take as many going our way as possible. I think we're probably on the minus side as far as breaks are concerned."

DODGERS 5, ASTROS 1: In Houston, Gary Sheffield drove in three runs for Los Angeles and Eric Gagne (1-1) got his first major league victory, allowing five hits in six innings.

Houston has lost nine of its last 13, and first baseman Jeff Bagwell said, "I knew this would be a tough series with three teams fighting for two playoff spots. We didn't play very well. We deserved to lose."

CUBS 3, CARDINALS 2: Round one of the McGwire-Sosa duel was a draw.

Neither Mark McGwire nor Sammy Sosa came close to a home run in St. Louis as Chicago won the opener of the three-game, season-ending series.

With 63 home runs, McGwire leads Sosa by one with two games to go, but his streak of homering in four consecutive games came to an end in front of a sellout crowd of 49,085 -- the largest of the season at Busch Stadium.

McGwire, who could become the first NL player since Dale Murphy in 1984-85 to win consecutive home run titles, was 1 for 4 with a single, a strikeout and two flyouts to right. Sosa struck out twice, walked and popped out to center.

PADRES 6, DIAMONDBACKS 1: Even with the loss to visiting San Diego, Arizona clinched the home-field advantage in the first round of the NL playoffs. When Cincinnati lost at Milwaukee, Arizona was assured the first two games of the playoffs will be in Phoenix next Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The Diamondbacks will play Cincinnati, Houston or New York in their first postseason game.

BRAVES 4, MARLINS 1: John Smoltz (11-8), in his final tuneup before the NL playoffs, pitched seven strong innings and struck out a season-high 11 for Atlanta against visiting Florida.

GIANTS 9, ROCKIES 4: In Denver, Jay Canizaro drove in a career-high four runs and J.T. Snow homered and had three RBI to help San Francisco win for just the third time in 13 games.

EXPOS 7, PHILLIES 4: In Philadelphia, Vladimir Guerrero homered and drove in three runs, setting two Montreal single season records. With 39 homers and 124 RBI, he has topped the home run record he set last season and surpassed the RBI mark of Tim Wallach, who had 123 in 1987.