The time for brutal honesty is now, said R.A. Dickey.

The Mets can't afford to sugarcoat their ineptitude any longer. If they plan to play better, each man on the roster must take responsibility for his shortcomings.

"We have to be honest with ourselves about what kind of team we are," Dickey said after the Mets fell, 4-3, to the Houston Astros at Citi Field last night. "We can't just keep telling ourselves, 'We're a better team than this.' We may not be. And we've got to be honest about that and identify what we're doing wrong and do it better."

The Mets, down by a run in the eighth, had runners at the corners with one out, but Houston reliever Jose Valdez struck out pinch hitter Justin Turner. His breaking ball, however, got away from catcher J.R. Towles and dribbled toward first base, prompting Angel Pagan, who was on third, to sprint home. But Towles recovered the ball and tossed it to Valdez, who tagged out a sliding Pagan to end the inning.

Sadly for the Mets, the ninth was even more frustrating. Jose Reyes (4-for-5) led off with a single, but Josh Thole popped up his sacrifice bunt attempt. Closer Brandon Lyon caught the ball on the fly and doubled Reyes off first. David Wright (0-for-3, two strikeouts) flew out to rightfield to end the game.

"There's no reason to get thrown out there," said Reyes, who stole two bases. "That's not supposed to happen. This is the big leagues. That type of mistake is going to hurt you."

It certainly hurt the Mets, who have lost 12 of their past 14 games and are 1-8 at Citi Field, their worst home start in club history. The 1962 Mets were 1-7 at the Polo Grounds. After winning their first series of the season against Florida, they have lost five in a row.

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"You try not to hang your head, but geez," Thole said. "All 35 guys in here are trying to get the job done, but there's no more trying anymore. They can bring anybody here to try."

Despite a shaky second inning in which he allowed three runs, Dickey (1-3) did his part to give the Mets a chance to win. But a misplaced 75-mph knuckleball in the eighth helped to derail the Mets' hopes. Hunter Pence hit a line-drive solo homer to left to make the score 4-3.

Dickey later clarified that he was not calling the Mets a bad team.

"Collectively, each one of us has to own what's ours to own," said Dickey, who gave up four runs and eight hits. "I'm not pointing the finger at anybody. But we have got to identify what's going on.

"If we keep just kind of waltzing through the season and saying we're better than this -- we've had some bad breaks, the umpires are bad -- we're going to look back and kick ourselves in the butt because we've done nothing about it."

Down 3-0 in the third, Reyes singled, then stole his second base of the game before scoring on Carlos Beltran's double.

Daniel Murphy's first home run of the season -- a two-run shot over the rightfield wall -- tied the score at 3 in the sixth. But the Mets failed to answer the Astros' final blow.

"We've got to win [today]," manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to come out and we've got to play well, we've got to pitch well.

"I'm going to go into the clubhouse in just a few minutes, in the kitchen or wherever they're hiding, and I'm going to tell them go home and get some rest because we have a battle on our hands."