The Mets continued their part tonight in sustaining New Yorkers' feverish hopes for a subway series with the Yankees. New York's underdog team, despite playing without ailing star Mike Piazza, thwarted Arizona with a six-run sixth inning and good enough pitching over six innings from Rick Reed. A 9-2 cakewalk carried the Mets to the brink of winning their first-round National League series with the Diamondbacks, with left-hander Al Leiter ready to pitch the potential clinching Game 4 Saturday afternoon.

When last seen, Leiter threw a two-hit shutout to defeat Cincinnati, 5-0, and earn the Mets the NL wild-card berth. Although he is 0-2 in three career starts against Arizona, Leiter may hold the best hope for the Mets because if the series goes to a Game 5 Sunday in Arizona, the Diamondbacks will throw their best hope, Randy Johnson. Tonight the Mets took a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-five series by peppering starter Omar Daal and four relievers; John Olerud showed the way with three runs batted in, two in the sixth when they sent 10 batters to the plate.

The Shea Stadium crowd of 56,180, the largest in the park in postseason play since 1969, turned from dismay when news of Piazza's ailment broke to utter joy demonstrated by sustained cheering, standing ovations and flying torn paper thrown from the top deck. Piazza was absent from the lineup after a cortisone injection to treat his sore left thumb caused the thumb to swell. In 143 games this season Piazza hit .303 with 40 home runs and 124 RBI. He said he hoped to play in Game 4. The Mets had been counting heavily on him to help them to a two-game sweep here, but fans went home tonight wondering if he would be needed.

Olerud, after striking out with the bases loaded to end the fourth inning, greeted second reliever Dan Plesac with his two-run single in the sixth to give the Mets a comfortable 6-2 lead, which they added to before the inning's end on a run-producing single by Roger Cedeno and a two-run single by Darryl Hamilton. The Diamondbacks contributed three errors during the game, plus other miscues of omission. If onetime Mets manager Casey Stengel were still alive, he might be heard again to utter his immortal line, "Can't anybody here play this game?" But this time he would not have been talking about his Mets.

"They're a good enough club without giving extra outs," said Arizona Manager Buck Showalter. "It certainly wasn't characteristic of the way we played this year defensively." Showalter said there would be "a sense of urgency" Saturday for the Diamondbacks, and promised a little pep talk to his players. He looked stressed. Meantime, the Mets' Bobby Valentine performed a great impression of a manager of a team that hadn't come anywhere close to something special. "We've accomplished two out of three and we need three out of five," he said through clenched teeth.

Twice before this season the right-handed Reed had hooked up with the left-handed Daal, and both times Daal had prevailed. But the tone of this game was set early, and it clearly favored Reed and the Mets. The Mets rapped Daal for five hits and three runs in the second and third innings -- aided by Arizona defensive lapses. Daal's ineffectiveness and early departure worked only briefly to Arizona's advantage when Turner Ward pinch-hit for the pitcher in the fifth inning and hit a two-run home run over the right field fence.

The Mets played sharply on defense, with shortstop Rey Ordonez making a dazzling scoop and throw to get Matt Williams in the sixth inning. Arizona, in contrast, looked to have jet lag. Ordonez drove in a run in the second with an opposite field single to right. The Mets then added two in the third. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a line drive to left with one out, and raced into second base as left fielder Luis Gonzalez casually played the ball as if this were March in the Cactus League. Olerud drove in Alfonzo with a single to left, taking second as Gonzalez threw home in another mistake. Olerud took third on a single and scored when shortstop Andy Fox heaved the ball into the seats trying to complete a double play, Robin Ventura getting the RBI.

Arizona only postponed further damage in the fourth when Daal struck out Olerud to end the inning with three on. But an error by Daal had contributed to his own jam when he failed to field a chopper along the first-base line by Ordonez and fell down in the process. The safest place for Daal seemed to be out of the game, a move confirmed emphatically by Ward's home run. Reed finished the last three innings on the bench, losing his voice while cheering on his mates. "This is a dream come true for me," he said.

Showalter, remembered unfondly by New Yorkers as Yankees manager and roundly booed on introduction, kept dialing the bullpen. But the Diamondbacks could offer no sustained resistance against Valentine's pack of torrid singles hitters and keen observers of the strike zone. The Mets roared with 10 singles -- three by Rickey Henderson -- a double and eight walks, taking the bite out of the Diamondbacks. "Seemed like they made seven or eight hits into fortunate areas," said a somber Showalter, "but that's the way the game goes."

THE PLAYOFFS

American League

New York vs. Texas

Yankees lead series, 2-0

Game 1: New York 8, Texas 0

Game 2: New York 3, Texas 1

Today: New York (Clemens 14-10) at Texas (Loaiza 9-5),

7:40 p.m. (NBC)

Sunday: New York at Texas, TBA,

if necessary

Monday: Texas at New York,

8:17 p.m. (FOX), if necessary

Cleveland vs. Boston

Indians lead series, 2-0

Game 1: Cleveland 3, Boston 2

Game 2: Cleveland 11, Boston 1

Today: Cleveland (Burba 15-8)

at Boston (R. Martinez 2-1),

4:17 p.m. (FOX)

Sunday: Cleveland at Boston, TBA, if necessary

Monday: Boston at Cleveland, TBA, if necessary

National League

Atlanta vs. Houston

Braves lead series, 2-1

Game 1: Houston 6, Atlanta 1

Game 2: Atlanta 5, Houston 1

Last night: Atlanta 5, Houston 3, 12 innings

Today: Atlanta (Smoltz 11-8)

at Houston (Reynolds 17-14),

1:09 p.m. (ESPN)

Sunday: Houston at Atlanta, TBA,

if necessary

Arizona vs. New York

Mets lead series, 2-1

Game 1: New York 8, Arizona 4

Game 2: Arizona 7, New York 1

Last night: New York 9, Arizona 2

Today: Arizona (Anderson 8-2)

at New York (Leiter 13-12),

1:09 p.m. (ESPN2)

Sunday: New York at Arizona,

7:50 p.m. (FOX), if necessary

League

Championship Series

American League

Wednesday, Oct. 138:07 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 148:07 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 164:07 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 177:37 p.m.

If necessary

Monday, Oct. 188:07 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 20TBA

Thursday, Oct. 218:07 p.m.

National League

Tuesday, Oct. 128:20 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 134:20 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 158:20 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 167:50 p.m.

If necessary

Sunday, Oct. 174:20 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 198:20 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 208:20 p.m.

World Series

Saturday, Oct. 23

at National League, 8:05 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 24

at National League, 8:05 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 26

at American League, 8:35 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 27

at American League, 8:35 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 28

at AL, 8:35 p.m., if necessary

Saturday, Oct. 30

at NL, 8:05 p.m., if necessary

Sunday, Oct. 31

at NL, 8:05 p.m., if necessary

BOX SCORES