NEW YORK (AP) — With one swift line drive over the left field wall and two nifty plays late to shut down rallies, the Houston Astros took another step toward wiping out a horrid start to the season.
The New York Mets, meanwhile, keep sinking deeper into a funk they might not be able to climb out of.
Hunter Pence hit a blistering go-ahead home run in the eighth inning, leading the Astros to a 4-3 victory over New York on Thursday night and giving the Mets their worst home start ever.
The Astros won consecutive games for the first time this season in improving to 7-11 after a 1-7 start.
“I think the guys have been giving themselves a chance to win games,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “Getting a hit like Hunter did tonight to put us over — I think the guys feel what it’s like now to do that. And that’s sure nice to see it come around like that.”
The Mets are going the other way, falling to 1-8 at Citi Field. They began 1-7 at the Polo Grounds during their 1962 expansion season before winning their next home game.
Their seventh straight home loss dropped them to 5-13 overall, the Mets’ poorest start since going 3-15 in 1964, according to STATS LLC.
“I think we have to find some kind of way to be honest about what kind of team we are,” Mets starter R.A. Dickey said. “We can’t just keep telling ourselves, ‘We’re a better team than this.’ We may not be. We got to be honest about that and identify what we’re doing wrong and do it better.”
One spot the Mets can look to is on the basepaths.
Astros reliever Jose Valdez made a sweeping tag at home to end the Mets’ eighth-inning comeback after a pitch got away from the catcher. In the ninth, after Jose Reyes got his fourth hit, Josh Thole popped up a bunt and closer Brandon Lyon threw to first for the double play.
“When you play as poorly as we’ve played, those big plays are going to go against you,” said Mets star David Wright, who went 0 for 3 and is in a 0-for-19 slump.
Daniel Murphy hit a tying, two-run homer in the sixth to spoil a fine outing by Houston starter Bud Norris.
Dickey flustered the Astros after a three-run second inning. But Pence lined a tiebreaking shot deep into the first section beyond the left-field wall.
Norris was pitching with a 3-1 lead in the sixth. He gave up a one-out double to Willie Harris before Murphy hit a fly just inside the right-field pole for his first homer of the season and second of three hits on the night.
“These guys battled today,” Norris said. “That’s still a good ballclub over there and they went deep in the counts but give a lot of credit to our team.”
Murphy should see significantly more playing time at second base because the Mets cut December draft pick Brad Emaus on Monday. Learning a new position this season, Murphy turned two double plays to back Dickey (1-3).
Mark Melancon (2-1) walked the leadoff hitter in the seventh and Fernando Abad did the same in the eighth, walking Angel Pagan on a 10-pitch at-bat. Then after a strikeout, Murphy had a perfect hit-and-run single that sent Pagan to third.
Valdez relieved and struck out pinch-hitter Justin Turner with a pitch in the dirt. The ball got away from J.R. Towles and Pagan broke for home. Towles chased the ball up the first base line and tossed it to Valdez, who swept around to tag Pagan.
“I thought I had a fair chance to make it,” Pagan said, “thought it was far enough to make something happen for our team.”
Lyon pitched the ninth for his fourth save.
“It’s the kind of game where the ball starts bouncing your way, the kind of game that can get you on a roll,” Astros second baseman Bill Hall said.
Norris worked out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the first — the Mets were 4 for 17 with the bases loaded coming in. And to form, Ike Davis struck out and Pagan hit a long fly to right to end the threat.
Norris then drove in a run in the second with a single. A run had already scored on Dickey’s wild pitch and Michael Bourn followed Norris with an RBI single to put Houston up 3-0.
But Dickey figured out how his knuckleball was reacting to Wednesday’s light breeze and shut down the Astros. He was aided by three double plays.
Hall left in the fourth because of a sprained right ankle. He was injured when he slammed into the wall behind first base making a running catch of Harris’ foul pop in the second inning. Matt Downs took over at second in the fourth.
He is day to day but Mills said it will likely be several days.
NOTES: Mets reliever Bobby Parnell has a circulatory problem in the middle finger of his pitching hand and will have further tests to determine if a blood clot is causing the numbness. He will likely go on the 15-day DL when LF Jason Bay is activated. … Mills said SS Clint Barmes (broken left hand) will probably have another X-ray Monday morning then the team will decide if he will take batting practice and when he will start a rehab assignment. … Carlos Lee came in 7 for 14 against Dickey. He went 0 for 4. … Wright came in an 0-for-16 slide and went 0 for 3.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)