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Nieuwenhuis knocks in a pair to tie the game

HOUSTON -- Houston and New York engaged in a one-run game on Monday night at Minute Maid Park. That's not news.

Including Houston's 4-3 win over the Mets in the first of a three-game series, the two teams have combined to play in 24 games decided by two runs or fewer.

But it was the Astros that came out the victors this time around. Houston shortstop Jed Lowrie delivered the game-winning hit in the eighth inning off losing pitcher Manny Acosta (0-2). His second hit of the night broke a 3-3 tie, scoring Jordan Schafer, who singled and moved into scoring position with a key stolen base.

Houston is 5-9 while the Mets are now 9-2 in games decided by two runs or fewer (6-2 in one-run games).

"We were there in the end," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

As in most close games, but for one pitch the outcome could have been different. Mets starter R.A. Dickey took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but a two-run homer by Astros first baseman Matt Downs proved fatal.

"He was outstanding," Collins said of his knuckleballer. "He obviously threw the ball very well, kept us in the game. We just gave him nothing to work with early."

Dickey got no decision in his fifth start of the season, yielding three runs on just three hits over six innings of work.

"That's the nature of the game, said Dickey of Houston's three-run sixth that broke a scoreless tie. "Tonight was a night where I literally threw one pitch that I regretted and it got hit out of the park. Normally that doesn't happen. One more little wiggle to the knuckleball there, he pops that up or he hits it off the end."

But Downs got all of it and extended Houston's lead to 3-0, scoring Schafer, who singled.

"He left one up in the zone," Downs said. "With the ball dancing like that, you just close your eyes and hope, I guess. You never know if it's going to dart in, dart out, go up and down. You just find something up in the zone and take a hack at it."

Downs was the only Astros hitter to make solid contact.

"That was the only pitch I'd take back all night," Dickey said. "I had a good knuckleball tonight. After the fifth, I felt like I had a better one than the first couple of innings. So I was going to go down with that no matter what. And that's the nature of the beast with the knuckleball."

Even Schafer, who had two of Houston's five hits, was baffled by the knuckler.

"His knuckleball was moving all over the place tonight," Schafer said. "It probably didn't help we kept the roof open tonight. That's probably not the smartest thing we've done. It helped that knuckleball move quite a bit more.

"He threw really well tonight. He kept us off balance and was throwing knuckleballs over the middle of the plate that were bouncing around our bats."

The Mets battled back, as they've done all year, from a 3-0 deficit with a three-run seventh inning kick-started by an RBI single from Andres Torres, who was making his first start since coming off the disabled list. Kirk Nieuwenhuis then delivered a two-out, two-strike, two-run game-tying single. It was his first game in left field, moving from center field with the return of Torres.

"That's a funky left field," he said of the short porch at Minute Maid Park. "It's something I'm going to have to keep working on."

Nieuwenhuis went 2-for-4 and has hit in 14 of his last 17 games. The rookie is hitting .338 (23-for-68) with six RBIs in that span.

"It speaks to the resolve and the character of the team," Collins said of the team's "never-say-die" attitude. "We don't have a soul in here that's not some type of survivor and competitor. All of our guys compete so hard and so well.

"Unfortunately, tonight we came out on the short end of the stick. But if you keep doing what we're doing, you're going to come out more times than not you're going to end up winning close games like that."

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