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HOU@NYM: Downs' single puts the Astros on the board

NEW YORK -- If nothing else, the Astros have been emphatically erratic.

Houston has yet to win more than two consecutive games and hasn't lost more than two straight since an 0-5 start to the year, and Thursday night's 6-1 loss to the Mets brought more of the same. The Astros had taken the first two games of the series behind some well-rounded play, then watched as their offense gave a listless performance in the finale.

"We try to separate all the games," said manager Brad Mills. "There's still some things where we'd like to have a little better at-bats and try to put some more runs on the board. We'll go back and we'll look at some things and move on. We're very happy with the series victory, don't get me wrong. But at the same time, we try to separate these games and improve on those."

Southpaw J.A. Happ had two of the road team's six hits, and the Astros weren't able to get their leadoff man on base in any of the game's first six innings. All game, in fact, Houston only had five runners on base with less than two outs and only had two innings -- the third and seventh -- in which it had more than one runner reach base.

Brett Wallace scored the Astros' lone run in that latter rally, but both of Houston's innings with more than one baserunner were punctuated by a double play. Angel Sanchez lined out in the third, and Humberto Quintero grounded into a threat-ending DP in the seventh. The game was tied in the third, and Houston trailed by five when Quintero grounded out.

"It will come," said Mills of his team's consistency. "You see the way we played, and I think you saw it in this series and even the last homestand. We're looking forward to going to Milwaukee and playing well there."

The Mets didn't need much behind a crisp outing from Chris Capuano. Catcher Mike Nickeas broke a scoreless tie in the third with his first career home run, and third baseman David Wright snapped a career-worst 0-for-20 slide with a solo shot in the fourth. New York used a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly to add two more runs in the fourth.

New York added even more offense on a two-run double by Wright in the fifth, springing ahead by six runs. Happ, knocked out with two outs in the fifth inning, allowed six hits and six earned runs en route to the loss. Capuano, by contrast, worked through the seventh inning and trimmed nearly three runs off his ERA (from 8.76 to 5.95).

"For some reason, the first few innings, I felt great," said Happ. "My stuff seemed sharp, and then I stopped finishing my breaking ball. That kind of hurt me. I wasn't finishing that pitch ... and the guys on base, more than anything, [wasn't] good execution. Right now, I might seem like I'm far away, but I'm this close to figuring it out. It's just a matter of finishing the pitch."

Happ had worked seven innings in each of his two previous starts, but came out in the fifth Thursday. And like his starter, Mills pointed instead to the near-miss quality of his outing. Happ trailed by just one run when the fourth inning started, but after Wright's home run, the wheels came off the track in the form of a bloop double and a wild pitch.

The Astros stuck with Happ in the fifth, and he got one out before allowing Capuano to hit a double. The left-hander followed that up by walking one batter and coaxing a fly ball, but then Wright ended his night with a two-run double.

"Look back at the runs he gave up," said Mills of his starter's night, "both home runs were two-strike home runs. He was kind of efficient with his pitches, and then all of a sudden, they started working some long counts. ... There was a one-out single up the middle, then a bloop double, a wild pitch and a sac fly. There were four runs, and with two outs [in the fifth], we were trying to give him a shot to work out of the inning, but David Wright was able to hit that double. And then that was it."

Houston had three extra-base hits -- doubles by Hunter Pence, Chris Johnson and Wallace -- and didn't push a runner to third until the seventh. Leadoff man Michael Bourn drew a walk in the third and has now reached base in 16 of his 17 games played this season. Happ singled in the third and fifth innings, but never advanced past second base.

The Astros credited Capuano for keeping them off balance, and Quintero said that the southpaw fed them a steady diet of four-seam fastballs in on their hands and sinkers and changeups down-and-away. Mets manager Terry Collins agreed with that assessment, saying that the veteran survived due to excellent usage of his offspeed stuff.

"His command of his changeup was absolutely tremendous," said Collins. "The location, he kept it down. And I know the wind helped a lot of it, because there were balls -- some of them just died. And he pounded the strike zone."

The Mets pushed the game beyond reach in the eighth, courtesy of Jason Bay scoring on a four-base error and first baseman Ike Davis pounding a two-run homer into the blackened batter's eye in center field. Houston is 7-7 following its 0-5 start, and the Astros said they can take satisfaction from leaving New York with a series win.

"Absolutely," said Happ of the team theme. "You win a series, and that's what we need to do. We need to win series. Tonight, not a whole lot went right -- especially for myself -- but you've got to forget about it. We'll take a series win."

"It's frustrating," said Quintero, "Because everything hasn't been going together. We wanted to try to win that last game here, and I think a sweep would've been really good for us going to Milwaukee. We'll try to win the series over there, too."

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