NEW YORK -- The Astros' offense made R.A. Dickey work, grind and sweat. But they couldn't get him to crack.
Dickey induced inning-ending double plays in both the fifth and seventh innings, escaping two major jams and holding the Astros to just one run as Houston fell to the Mets, 3-1, at Citi Field on Saturday afternoon.
Fernando Abad delivered four innings of one-run ball in the first start of his Major League career, his only blunder coming in his final inning.
With two outs and Ronny Cedeno on third, Dickey slapped a perfectly placed soft grounder to the first-base side of the mound, and confusion followed suit. Abad collided with catcher Jason Castro -- neither sure of who had the better play -- picked up the ball and threw to first from his stomach, but Dickey was easily safe as Cedeno crossed the plate to score.
"I made a decision," Abad said. "He told me he got it, but I saw him stop a little bit so I went and got the ball."
Houston responded in the top of the fifth inning, but an overturned balk call ultimately led to another scoreless frame.
With two on and one out, Dickey was initially called for a balk attempting to pick off Castro at second base, but the umpires convened to overturn the call after the Mets argued and the runners were sent back to first and second. In turn, Brian Bogusevic's ensuing single -- a hard grounder to first that left Justin Turner with no play -- loaded the bases rather than driving in a run, and Dickey induced an inning-ending double play from pinch-hitter Steve Pearce -- hitting for Abad -- to escape the jam.
"It turned out to be a big play, and I'm glad certainly someone picked it up right away," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "That's the first time we've had one turned our way."
Abad was at just 71 pitches when interim manager Tony DeFrancesco elected to pinch-hit for him in the fifth inning, but the Astros' staggering offense -- Houston ranks 29th in runs scored -- was in good position to score.
"If we have a chance to score runs, we're going to pinch-hit in those situations, even if it's early in the game," DeFrancesco said. "We're having a tough time scoring runs, so when we have guys in scoring position, we need to make sure we have the right guys up."
Normally a reliever, Abad was optioned to Triple-A in late July and was converted to a starter earlier this month. Prior to Saturday, Abad had made three Minor League starts -- the first three starts of his professional career.
In all, he allowed four hits and walked four in his four innings of work, but the one-run effort, no matter how short, still kept Houston within reach.
"We were real pleased with Abad," DeFrancesco said. "I told you he was going to be a new man when he came here. We were hoping to get five out of him, but four quality innings kept us in the game."
Turner extended the Mets' lead to two in the sixth with a solo shot off Houston reliever Mickey Storey, his first home run of the season and first since Aug. 6, 2011, when he hit two against the Braves.
But Houston again got to Dickey in the seventh after Scott Moore was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on Tyler Greene's single in the following at-bat. After Castro lined out to second, Dickey allowed Moore to score on a wild pitch to Brandon Barnes, who ultimately worked a walk. But Dickey induced another inning-ending double play, this time from Bogusevic.
"You can't say enough about Dickey," DeFrancesco said. "You hear about him on TV, the All-Star, but when you watch it live, that pitch is tough to hit. You've got to make adjustments; he didn't make any mistakes with it. We had him on the ropes a couple times and he wound up getting double plays, so you've got to tip your cap."
New York added much-needed insurance in the eighth with an RBI single by Jason Bay, his first RBI at Citi Field since July 21, and Frank Francisco earned his 21st save of the season as Dickey improved to 16-4.
Despite the loss, Houston still leads New York 4-1 in the season series -- the Astros swept the Mets in Houston earlier this year -- the team's only winning mark against a National League opponent.
"Now it's just about like any other team, we're trying to win a series," DeFrancesco said. "We're in position to win a series tomorrow, we've got a day off Monday, so our bullpen's going to go for it. The guys are healthy, they're playing good and I think they're excited for what's going to happen."
Adam Rosenbloom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.