On the day Carlos Beltran returned, the Mets got another bad break.

The Mets learned that C Mike Piazza will miss at least a few games because of a broken bone in his hand. The injury, a hairline fracture of the pisiform bone, happened when Piazza was hit by a foul tip during Tuesday night's 6-2 victory over the Pirates.

Piazza caught one more inning before leaving because of the pain. He went to the hospital last night, where X-rays revealed the injury.

The news about Piazza's injury took some of the excitement from Beltran's return. Just six days after his frightening head-to-head collision with teammate Mike Cameron in the outfield, Beltran batted third as the starting center fielder.

* GARCIAPARRA DAY-TO-DAY: Cubs SS Nomar Garciaparra homered one inning before leaving yesterday's game against the Astros with a stiff lower back.

Garciaparra was said to be day-to-day after hitting his second homer of the season and then leaving in the fifth inning. He was making his 10th start since returning after tearing his left groin in April. Garciaparra has played in 26 games this season, batting .242 with two homers and seven RBI.

* CROWDS FLOCK TO ST. LOUIS: The Cardinals' final season at Busch Stadium has produced record crowds and a first-place team.

The team announced yesterday it had sold 3.45 million tickets, breaking its single-season record of 3.43 million in 1989. The Cardinals' game last night against the Diamondbacks was the 31st sellout, and 23rd straight attendance over 40,000.

-- From News Services

Marty Prather picked an appropriate sign in 100 degree heat last month in St. Louis, which set a team attendance mark.