SAN DIEGO -- With their ace R.A. Dickey on the mound, the New York Mets, against a San Diego Padres team 19 games under .500, sought their fifth victory in six games on Friday.
Dickey's knuckleball was "dancing, just dancing," said Padres No. 5 hitter Yonder Alonso.
But the Mets failed Dickey, who couldn't overcome a sloppy defense that helped the Padres to score three runs in the later innings, leading to San Diego's 3-1 victory in the series opener at Petco Park.
"I think everybody here feels that's a game we should've won," Dickey said.
Scott Hairston wasn't able to run down a high flyball in right field, the position that Padres manager Bud Black said Hairston detested during his time in San Diego. Hairston, running into the gap, slowed as he neared the ball, then came up short after a feet-first slide.
"I thought we were going to have a play on it," Dickey said.
As a result, Alonso got a double and Padres baserunner Carlos Quentin lumbered toward home plate with one out and the score tied, 1-1, in the seventh inning.
The Mets, via throws by center fielder Andres Torres and second baseman Ronny Cedeno, got the ball to catcher Josh Thole before Quentin reached home plate, but Quentin rammed into Thole, jarring the ball loose to score the go-ahead run.
Thole, who didn't protect the ball with his bare hand, was charged with an error, making the run unearned.
John Baker then reached Dickey (14-3) for an RBI single.
"I just couldn't get my free hand on the ball," Thole said. "You want to have the ball in your bare hand instead of the glove. It's frustrating because the play at the plate, that's it, that's the ballgame. It changed the whole dynamic of the game."
Dickey didn't allow a hit until with one out in the fifth, when Alonso's liner landed in left field for a clean single.
Mets hitters had their own troubles with Clayton Richard (8-11).
It took a failed defensive play to give New York a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Padres rookie Logan Forsythe, after tracking down a groundball behind second base, overthrew shortstop Everth Cabrera on a forceout attempt, allowing David Wright to score on the two-out play.
The Mets were on the wrong end of a delayed steal in the sixth, and it led to San Diego tying the score, 1-1.
Leading off second with one out, Cabrera took off as Thole received Dickey's pitch. The speedster reached third base before both Wright, the third baseman, and Thole's throw got there.
"I saw him kind of hold for a moment," Thole said of Cabrera, who has succeeded on all 19 stolen-base attempts this year. "You get caught on your heels a little -- but the guy's a runner."
Chris Denorfia followed with a one-out sacrifice fly to right field, giving the Padres a run without benefit of a hit.
In May, Dickey shut out the Padres for 7 1/3 innings, leading the Mets to a 2-0 victory in New York.
Alonso said Dickey's knuckleball was no less difficult to hit on Friday.
"Dickey, he had us fooled," said the first baseman, who leads the Padres with 29 doubles. "We were patient. You have to wait him out."
Giving the Padres less reason to panic, the Mets scored only one run in seven innings against Richard despite reaching the left-hander for seven hits and two walks.
New York also wasted consecutive singles by Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada with none out in the eighth inning against reliever Luke Gregerson. After Andres Torres, the next hitter, failed to put down a bunt on a knee-high pitch, Gregerson struck him out. He then struck out Wright and retired Hairston on a groundout.
NOTES: The Mets put reliever Tim Byrdak on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue. ... The Mets were playing in Petco Park for the first time this year. Before the game, Mets manager Terry Collins was asked if his team was a good fit for the pitcher-friendly venue. "I like the way this park plays for our pitching staff, for sure," he said. He didn't mention the offense or defense. ... Collins said infielder David Murphy, hit by a pitch on Thursday, was out of the lineup in part because he was still experiencing soreness in his hand.
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