CINCINNATI (AP) _ All the New York Mets' raging _ 13 minutes' worth, to be exact _ couldn't change the the bottom line: They lost again.

Ron Gant took advantage of a rookie pitcher's mistake by trying to steal home on a two-strike pitch. He drew a catcher's interference call that handed the Cincinnati Reds their go-ahead run and a 3-2 victory Thursday night.

The game was held up for 13 minutes as the Mets argued and ultimately protested the call that decided the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Manager Dallas Green knows the protest will wind up like the game _ the Mets will lose that, too.

``It's a moot point,'' Green said angrily. ``There's no sense in even talking about it. I thought it was a lousy call.''

It was a daring move by Gant that capped the Reds' first three-game sweep of the Mets at Riverfront Stadium since August 1982. New York has lost nine of 12 overall while tumbling into last place in the NL East.

Reid Cornelius (0-1), making his first major league start, walked Gant and Reggie Sanders with one out in the sixth and the score tied at 2. The runners advanced on Hal Morris' groundout, and Cornelius went to a 1-2 count on Bret Boone, who would have been forced to swing at another strike.

``I'm a gambler,'' said Gant, who has never stolen home. ``He (Cornelius) was acting like I wasn't even there.''

Even though Gant had bluffed a move for home on the previous pitch, Cornelius worked from a windup because it was an improbable steal situation.

``On the pitch before, he sort of gauged me pretty good,'' Cornelius said. ``I thought about maybe going to my stretch, but I didn't think he'd go with two strikes.

``When I started my windup, I saw him take off. (Catcher Alberto Castillo) got out like a pitchout and I tried to get the ball to him right there. It looked like he was back in good position and I thought he made the tag. I thought we had him.''

Home plate umpire Paul Runge ruled that Castillo had gone over home plate to get the pitch, which is catcher's interference. Replays indicated that Gant slid in ahead of the tag anyway.

The Mets argued there was no interference, but Runge and the Reds saw it differently.

``He just jumped out in front,'' Boone said. ``His glove was out in front of the plate.''

The umpires huddled three times to discuss the ruling with Green and Reds manager Davey Johnson. The Mets played the rest of the game under protest after the umpires counted the run, awarded Boone first base on the interference and sent Sanders to third on a balk, as rule 7.07 requires.

``When I first made the call, I was 100 percent sure it was catcher's interference and a balk,'' said Runge, a crew chief with 22 years of major league experience. ``There was some difference of opinion, so we thrashed it around. If I did anything wrong, I took too much time.

``I respect Dallas Green and Davey Johnson, so maybe I took too long. But it was a big play and I wanted to give them the time.''

Gant's aggressive play turned a game in which both teams wasted chances.

Dave Burba pitched five shutout innings for the Reds in his first start since July 24, 1993. Burba was scheduled to start Friday but had to be moved up a day because John Smiley got a stomach virus.

Burba allowed just two hits and handed a 2-0 lead to the rest of the bullpen, but Chuck McElroy (3-2) let the Mets tie it in the sixth.

Carl Everett doubled with one out and scored on Jeff Kent's infield single. Kent took third on Rico Brogna's double and scored on Joe Orsulak's fly out to deep center. Brogna tagged up late on the play _ he was nearly a third of the way to third base when the catch was made _ and was easily thrown out at third base to end the inning.

After the interference put Cincinnati ahead, Mike Jackson pitched a scoreless inning to hold the lead and Jeff Brantley pitched the ninth for his 22nd save.

Notes: A magnetic resonance imaging test on Mets pitcher Pete Harnisch found torn cartilage in his shoulder. He will miss at least one start. ... Burba, from nearby Springfield, had to do some last-minute shuffling to accommodate family and friends who were expecting him to pitch on Friday. Burba had left 38 tickets for Friday's game. ... Outfielder-first baseman Eric Anthony, recovering from a torn patellar tendon, has soreness in the knee after a workout. His return is uncertain.