NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey didn't feel at his best nor did he have his best pitch, intimidating developments on their own for most pitchers.
But with Dickey's only go-to pitch being a knuckleball, and the fact that his New York Mets teammates have struggled to hit during a six-game losing streak, it would have been easy for Dickey to quickly grow unsettled.
Instead, the oft-philosophical Mets ace embraced the challenge, surviving seven one-run innings and even adding an RBI infield hit to give the Mets a 3-1 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday at Citi Field.
Dickey earned his 16th win of the season, aided by Justin Turner's first homer of the year, some important double plays and a rare overturned balk call, by umpiring crew chief Tom Hallion.
Jason Bay also added a late -- and rare -- RBI single in the eighth while three Mets relievers pitched two scoreless innings after Dickey told manager Terry Collins he was "run down." Frank Francisco earned his 21st save of the season with a perfect ninth.
The victory kept Dickey within range of a potential 20-win season as the NL Cy Young award candidate moved to 16-4 with a 2.76 ERA. He acknowledged the win put him closer to the milestone, but said "this script doesn't change," regarding his resistance to think about personal stats.
He was more eager to discuss how he needed strong strategic ideas to flutter around his head on a day when his famed knuckler would not dance around the plate the way it has so often this year.
"I didn't have a good knuckleball today ... but I could still throw strikes and change speeds with it," Dickey said, adding he could also change its elevation. "We wouldn't have won the game without the defense. It had to happen that way for me today.
"It can be fun. It can still be a challenge, figuring out how I can still have a serviceable outing."
It's been especially challenging for the Mets to score runs lately and they needed Dickey to get them on the board in the bottom of the fourth.
Dickey hit a ball off the end of the bat in front of the plate with two outs and a runner on third. Astros starter Fernando Abad grabbed the ball, but fell as he tried to make the tough play and Dickey eventually beat it out for a 1-0 lead.
Abad, called up from Class AAA Oklahoma City, pitched well in his first major-league start. Abad (0-1) gave up a run on four hits in four innings, as he was pinch hit for with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth. He walked four while striking out two, in his first start after making 30 relief appearances earlier in the season.
"I told you you were going to be pleased with Abad when he came back," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco told reporters after the game. "... For him to go head-to-head today with Dickey, an All-Star and one of the best pitchers in the league, is a great achievement for him today."
Dickey struck out just two, but walked only one, escaping jams with double plays in the fifth and seventh.
The Astros got a pair of one-out hits from Tyler Greene and Jason Castro in the fifth, when Dickey was called for a balk. Even rarer than the call was that second-base umpire Hallion reversed home plate umpire Chad Fairchild's call, backing Dickey's contention that he stepped off the rubber before making a pickoff move.
"It's nice to see it," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who recently complained about calls getting overturned for opponents, but not the Mets. "That's the first time we've had one turned our way."
Brian Bogusevic then reached on the Astros' third straight hit to load the bases. But Dickey recovered by getting pinch hitter Steve Pearce to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Turner gave the anemic Mets an insurance run with his homer in the sixth off reliever Mickey Storey to make it 2-0.
"Felt nice to finally get the barrel out and square one up," Turner said.
The Astros made it 2-1 in the seventh, but Dickey limited them to one run. Dickey hit Scott Moore with a pitch to lead off the inning and gave up a hit to Greene. But Ronny Cedeno, playing second base for a resting Daniel Murphy, made a leaping grab of Castro's liner for the first out before a wild pitch scored Moore. Bogusevic then hit into a 6-4-3 double play, to end the inning.
"Can't say enough about Dickey; you have to tip your cap to him today," DeFrancesco said. "But we had him on the ropes a couple of times and he fought his way out of them."
Dickey felt he owed it to Collins and the team to be "honest" and told his manager he was running out of gas, after 86 pitches, so Jon Rauch came on in the eighth. He recorded the first two outs before Josh Edgin secured the last one.
Bay then added an RBI single to snap his 0-for-14 streak in the bottom of the inning and make it 3-1, and Francisco sealed the win in the ninth.
NOTES: The Mets announced after the game that Lucas Duda will be promoted from Class AAA Buffalo and a corresponding move will be made Sunday. Collins said before the game Duda would play left field and some first upon his return. ... Turner's iPod station played the Oasis song "Wonderwall" on a seemingly endless loop before the game, before teammate Josh Thole finally got it changed. Originally thought to be a prank, a sheepish Turner said after the game, "Nah, it was an accident" as he just meant to add the song to a playlist. ... Astros reliever Chuckie Fick was sent to Class AAA Oklahoma City to clear a spot for Abad. Fick, picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of July, was 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA in nine games for Houston. ... Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell was out for the fourth straight game with a bruised right index finger and was listed as day to day.