For Pittsburgh and Montreal, this series is definitely a showdown. For the Atlanta Braves, though, their tussle with Cincinnati is more like a slowdown.

The Pirates and Expos, who'll finally play each other Wednesday night after nearly a summer's worth of watching scoreboards, both won Tuesday night to set up a final run at the NL East.In the West, however, the first-place Braves continued to shuffle along, knowing time is running out for Cincinnati. Even a 4-2 loss to the second-place Reds on Tuesday night still seemed like just a minor delay toward Atlanta's second-straight title.

There's so little drama at Riverfront Stadium that feisty Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella concedes he's not real fired up playing Atlanta.

"We've got two more games with them and hopefully we can slow down their pennant express and solidify our hold on second place," Piniella said.

In the East, however, it looks like the two-time champion Pirates are going to have to battle the Expos the rest of the season. Pittsburgh has won 12 of its last 16 games, including a 4-2 victory over St. Louis Tuesday night, but still only holds a four-game lead over Montreal.

The Expos, who've split 14 games with the Pirates this season but haven't played them since June 28, prepped for their two-game series at Pittsburgh by shutting out Philadelphia 3-0.

"We're ready and I know they will be," Expos manager Felipe Alou said. "It's too bad it's only a two-game series. We've got to win them both. A split can't help us too much."

Reds 4, Braves 2

Atlanta's number for clinching the West stayed at 10 as Dan Wilson doubled home two runs in the eighth off Steve Avery (10-10). The Braves are 0-7 at Riverfront Stadium this season, while Avery is 1-5 with a 7.20 ERA there in seven career starts.

Tim Belcher (12-14) gave up four hits over eight innings, including solo homers by Jeff Blauser, his 12th, and Ron Gant, his 14th, for his first win since Aug. 25. Rob Dibble struck out the side for his 20th save.

Pirates 4, Cardinals 2

Pittsburgh got consecutive homers from Barry Bonds and Jeff King in the sixth inning to beat St. Louis for the 12th straight time.

Jay Bell opened the sixth with a double, extending his hitting streak to an NL-high 20 games, scoring on Bonds' 29th homer, off Mark Clark (3-10). King followed with his 13th home run.

Andy Van Slyke also homered, his 12th, in the first for the Pirates.

Expos 3, Phillies 0

Ken Hill (16-8) rebounded from a poor start last week to shut down Philadelphia on three hits over eight innings. Hill lasted just 22/3 innings in a 10-3 loss to St. Louis on Sept. 9.

Astros 9, Giants 6

Jeff Bagwell's three-run homer in the 11th inning was his fifth hit of the game and helped Houston overcome a five-run lead.

Mets 4, Cubs 2

Severe thunderstorms hit Wrigley Field as Chicago was preparing to bat in eighth inning. After waiting almost 90 minutes, the game was called.

Eddie Murray had his 15th homer and Jeff McKnight got his first homer for New York. Both were two-run shots and both came off Shawn Boskie (5-9).

Dodgers 6, Padres 3

Orel Hershiser (10-13) twice plunked Gary Sheffield, the NL's leading hitter, then plodded through five innings for his first victory since Aug. 19.

Los Angeles scored four times in the sixth inning - keyed by Dave Anderson's tie-breaking RBI double - as San Diego lost for the fourth time in five games.