So when Astros starting pitcher Bud Norris motioned ever-so-gently in the second inning Sunday afternoon and shifted second baseman Geoff Blum a few feet to his left, he couldn't have known at the time that he had helped determine his team's fate.
Within a matter of moments, Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey rolled up a bases-loaded single up the middle and past the outstretched arm of Blum to score two runs and ignite a four-running inning that helped New York beat the Astros, 5-1, in the series finale at Citi Field.
"His command was getting away, but he was trying to go away on Dickey and the ball had came over the plate a little bit and he had moved Blum over into the hole a little bit to protect against that," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He was able to get the ball up the middle, and that was big."
The loss ended an otherwise successful 10-game road trip for the Astros, who lost two of three in both Florida and New York around a four-game sweep of the Phillies last week to finish with their first winning road trip of the season at 6-4.
Dickey (9-5) not only drove in a pair of runs, but he frustrated the Astros for seven-plus innings with his hard knuckleball. The right-hander allowed six hits, one run and two walks in his second start against Houston in his past three outings.
The Astros were hoping the familiarity of Dickey, who held them to nine hits and two runs Aug. 18 in Houston, would help their cause in Sunday's series finale, but that wasn't the case.
"The one thing about knuckleball pitchers, you really never know," Mills said. "You can beat him up one day and come back and they stick it to you and vice versa. You just never know. The thing is with him this year, he's been real consistent. If you look at his numbers and the way he's been throwing the ball, you can see that."
Norris (6-8), who entered the game with a career-high four-game winning streak, allowed eight hits, five runs and three walks in 5 2/3 innings to suffer his first loss since July 17. It was the second time in the last 20 games the Astros did not have a starter throw at least six innings.
Norris walked David Wright to begin the second and then gave up a double to Ike Davis. With first base open, he worked around catcher Josh Thole to load the bases for Luis Hernandez, who struck out swinging. Dickey bounced the second pitch he saw up the middle to score Wright and Davis and put the Mets ahead, 2-0.
Thole scored on a groundout by Angel Pagan, and Luis Castillo singled home Dickey to extend the lead to 4-0.
"I got myself into a little jam," Norris said. "We were pitching around Thole to get to the bases loaded. I got the strikeout and then I got the pitcher up and I tried to get a ground-ball double play, but unfortunately I moved Blum out of position. That was my own fault. I'm kind of hitting myself over the thumb for it. You have to give him credit. He put the ball on the bat."
The Astros got a run back in the third, when catcher Jason Castro (2-for-4) led off with a double, went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Norris and scored as Michael Bourn beat out an infield hit. Dickey wriggled out of a bases-loaded situation in the fourth by getting Norris to ground out, which started a stretch during which he retired 10 of 11 batters.
"It was kind of tough when you're trying to battle like that," Castro said. "He did a good job of really not missing over the plate with a lot of his knuckle balls. He was making sure he really wasn't leaving anything over for us to hit. When a guy's doing that, it's tough. The unpredictability of a knuckleball, it's tough to sit on it and develop a pattern for it because it's tough every time."
Thole put the Mets ahead in the sixth, 5-1, by lining a 2-1 pitch from Norris off the facade of the upper deck in right field for his second homer of the season.
"I was just looking for a pitch to drive, just try to get on base," Thole said. "He missed with his offspeed pitch the pitch before that, threw a slider up in the zone a little bit. I thought it was a good time to take a shot to hit a ball in the gap somewhere."
Bourn extended his hitting streak to eight games with his run-scoring single, but he left the game in the eighth inning with a strained left hamstring. Rookie shortstop Tommy Manzella went 2-for-4, giving him multihit games on consecutive days. Blum also had two hits in his first start Aug. 19.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.