Andruw's 3-run HR in the 9th caps Hudson's solid game

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Tim Hudson took the mound with the initials "JH" on the front of his jersey. Before every inning, he scribbled the letters "VM" in the dirt with his cleats.

The Braves pitcher sure had a lot on his mind.

Hudson managed to put his emotions aside for a few hours Monday night, working eight strong innings for Atlanta after getting word the previous day that both his grandmother and college teammate Josh Hancock had died.

Andruw Jones won it with a three-run homer in the ninth, leading the Braves past the Philadelphia Phillies 5-2. Hudson didn't factor in the decision, though that did little to diminish how well he pitched with such a heavy heart.

"It's kind of tough," Hudson said. "But I know my grandmother and Josh would have wanted me out there. They were some of the biggest baseball fans ever. It wasn't only me out there pitching tonight. I felt like I had a little help."

Vera Mickle's death wasn't a surprise; she had been ailing for some time. But Hancock, a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals, was killed early Sunday in a car crash at age 29 -- an especially tough blow for Hudson to take.

The two played together at Auburn in 1997, leading the Tigers to the College World Series, and had remained close ever since.

"It's definitely the most mentally draining game I've ever pitched," Hudson said. "But I know Josh and my grandmother would not have wanted me to be anywhere else but out there on the mound."

In the bottom of the ninth, Kelly Johnson led off with a single, Chipper Jones walked and Andruw Jones hit a towering drive into the left-field seats off Antonio Alfonseca (1-1).

Coming into the game, the Braves center fielder was 1-for-11 with six strikeouts against Alfonseca.

"He's got my number," Jones said. "I just went up there looking for a breaking pitch. He did throw it, and I didn't miss it."

Chipper Jones also homered for the Braves, then marveled at how well Hudson pitched under the circumstances.

"The game itself allows us to forget our problems off the field," Jones said. "We can go out there and have fun for a couple of hours. Life is very fragile, as we all just found out."

While Hudson failed to improve to 4-0 for the first time in his career, he has clearly regained the form that made him one of baseball's top starters in Oakland. He struggled last season for the Braves, going 13-12 with a career-worst 4.86 ERA.

"Hudson was tough. He threw up a lot of ground balls," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's got better command than any time I've seen him in the last year."

Hudson has lasted at least seven innings in each of his first six starts, not allowing more than three runs in any of them. His ERA is 1.40.

"It's nice to go out there and give us a good chance to win," said Hudson, who even chipped in with a run-scoring groundout that broke a scoreless tie in the fifth. "It's still early in the year. We've got five months to go. I've got to keep doing what I'm doing."

But first, real life is calling.

Hudson left right after the game to be his family, who were preparing for Mickle's funeral in Columbus, Ga., on Tuesday. Then it's on to Mississippi, where Hancock will be buried on Thursday.

"We really wanted Huddy to win the game," Andruw Jones said.

Instead, Mike Gonzalez (1-0) picked up his first win for the Braves with a scoreless ninth. The former Pirates closer moved back into his familiar last-inning role after Bob Wickman went on the DL before the game.

Jon Lieber matched Hudson, allowing two runs (one earned) in seven innings. The Phillies starter surrendered seven hits and six walks but escaped a major jam with his final pitch, getting Andruw Jones to hit into an inning-ending double play with two runners on.

Then it was Brett Myers' turn to work out of trouble. With runners at second and third with one out in the eighth, newcomer Willie Harris took a called third strike and pinch-hitter Brayan Pena grounded out weakly in front of home plate.

The Braves called up Harris from Triple-A Richmond and started him right away in left field after dealing Ryan Langerhans to Oakland.

Hudson didn't allow a hit for 4 1-3 innings, getting all but one of his outs on grounders -- a sure sign the sinker ball pitcher was on his game. But Aaron Rowand finally broke through with a single in the fifth, and the Phillies strung together three hits in the sixth.

Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino both singled with one out, Chase Utley tied it up with sacrifice fly to deep center and Ryan Howard followed with a two-out, run-scoring single to left that put the Phillies ahead 2-1.

But Chipper Jones quickly erased the deficit, leading off the bottom half with his eighth homer.


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