For one more day, Piazza catches

Mike Piazza's first base transition isn't over. It's just on hiatus. <p> Piazza was back behind the plate for the third consecutive game Tuesday, blasting his 357th homer as a catcher as the Mets extended their winning streak to five games with a 7-4 win over the Reds.

The so-called tools of ignorance had almost become foreign objects to Piazza, who had played 32 games at first base (30 starts) this season before moving back behind the plate on Thursday against Cleveland.

At the time, the effort appeared to be something of a novelty in preparation for Piazza's celebratory night at Shea Stadium on Friday, but after New York's off day Monday, manager Art Howe opted to put Piazza behind the plate once more.

"I don't feel sharp the way I should, but I feel like I'm getting the job done," Piazza said.

Part of the problem is that the Mets are carrying only two catchers after a hamstring injury sidelined backup Vance Wilson. The Mets briefly had a third catcher in journeyman Tom Wilson, but he was designated for assignment after just one at-bat.

Howe said yesterday that he is trying to limit the amount of time that he keeps both Piazza and Jason Phillips on the field, as both are slow-footed pinch-running candidates, but beyond that, Phillips is hitting .214 and just .199 against right-handed pitching.

Whatever the logistics, the combinations appear to be working, at least for the moment. The Mets are stomaching all challenges thrown their way, surviving a shaky outing from Matt Ginter and an ongoing 0-for-16 slump credited to Kaz Matsui, who has become a target of boo-birds at Shea Stadium.

As such, the Mets are quickly gaining ground in the NL East, trailing division-leading Florida by 2.5 games and two games in the loss column.

But don't ask Piazza to predict what'll might take place in the next couple of weeks – he's not even completely sure what position he'll be playing tomorrow.

"Who knows what's going to happen in this division right now?" Piazza said. "It's a tight race. Teams are bunched up. You just have to keep playing good ball."

HOT CAMMY: Mike Cameron proved to be a thorn in the side of his former club Tuesday, falling a home run shy of the cycle and getting on base all four times he came to the plate.

He also scored three runs in the latest of a series of hot performances that has seen him raise his average 30 points to .223, from a dismal .193 on June 11.

"It's nice," Cameron said. "It's a good feeling. I'm working hard everyday trying to put it together. I'm starting to get a lot of pitches in the zone."

KID GRIFF FIRES BACK: Ken Griffey Jr. had a barb for the Mets organization, which tried to strong-arm him into accepting a trade to New York within a 15-minute window in December 1999.

Under ex-GM Steve Phillips, the Mets were set to deal Armando Benitez, Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel to the Mariners for Griffey, but Griffey rejected the deal under his rights as a 10-and-5 player and eventually scored his coveted trade to the Reds.

"Back then, they gave me 15 minutes to decide on my future," Griffey said. "That's not enough time. Basically, that's disrespectful. It was an easy decision. If you're going to give me that much time, then you really don't want me."

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