SAN FRANCISCO -- Before the Braves began their current 10-game road trip, manager Fredi Gonzalez told his players he was proud that they had not allowed themselves to be negatively influenced by last year's late-season collapse.
Four losses and five days later, some Braves fans began to worry about the possibility of traveling down the same devastating path again this year. But some of that panic was put to rest Sunday night when a suddenly rejuvenated offense backed Tim Hudson's strong effort and helped secure a split of a four-game series with a 7-1 win over the Giants.
"It was important to at least come out of here with a split," Hudson said. "Anytime you lose the first two games of a four-game series, it's really tough to come out with a split. But we were fortunate to come out and get some runs early."
The Braves drew a pair of walks against a shaky Tim Lincecum in the two-run first inning and saw Juan Francisco display his impressive power with a long third-inning home run. But the tone of the evening was set by Hudson, who took advantage of some shadows while allowing just one run and five hits.
"I think he would have done that even if the shadows weren't that bad," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He was really pounding the bottom of the zone. He had all his pitches working. He was pretty much doing whatever he wanted to do."
With wins in the final two games of this four-game series, the Braves strengthened some of the confidence that had been tested when they lost Friday night for the sixth time in a span of seven games. At the same time, they moved to within 4 1/2 games of the first-place Nationals, who were swept by the Phillies this past weekend.
"It was a day where you definitely had to come out and pound the strike zone," Hudson said. "It wasn't exactly easy to see from a hitter's point of view. It was my job to pound the strike zone and try to make them hurt me that way and not give them free passes."
Once a Bay Area favorite during his days with the A's, Hudson has now helped the Braves win eight of his past 10 starts against the Giants. One of the losses came at the beginning of the 2010 season, when Billy Wagner surrendered a game-tying ninth-inning home run. The other occurred the same year in the Division Series game that Atlanta fans and Brooks Conrad have tried hard to forget.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy knows what a tough opponent Hudson is.
"He pitches in and out with the breaking ball and changeup," Bochy said. "He knows what he's doing. You know you're going to have your work cut out when you're facing him, and he had a good game."
Jason Heyward has also proved to be quite successful against the Giants, especially while playing in San Francisco. After sitting out the opener of this four-game series, he homered in each of the three final games. His latest came in the ninth inning when he and Freddie Freeman teamed to hit back-to-back solo shots on consecutive pitches thrown by Clay Hensley.
Heyward has six home runs in 38 career at-bats at AT&T Park. That is his highest total at any ballpark located outside of Atlanta.
"He needs to move out here, but still play for us obviously," Hudson said. "I'm saying stay out here during the offseason, work on that home run stroke and then come jack some home runs at Turner Field."
There was a festive feel in the Braves clubhouse as the team prepared to travel to San Diego to begin a three-game series Monday. After McCann said, "Good game," Hudson responded with, "I pitched pretty well, too."
Hudson was referencing the two-hit performance he had with a pair of singles, including one that was lost in the sun. That simply added to the frustrations experienced by Lincecum, who threw 90 pitches while surrendering three runs in five innings. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has an uncharacteristic 5.30 ERA through 27 starts.
Lincecum might have escaped his 32-pitch first inning unscathed with some good fortune. But Martin Prado's bases-loaded chopper proved to be too soft for the Giants to turn a double play. McCann then followed with a bloop single that sparked his three-hit night and gave Hudson a 2-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.
Francisco added to the lead with a fourth-inning solo home run that sailed over the center-field wall and led Gonzalez to question how many might have been hit that far in this ballpark's history. Slick-fielding shortstop Paul Janish added to Atlanta's lead with a two-run triple in the sixth inning.
Hudson surrendered three hits through the first six innings and then minimized damage after giving up two singles to begin the seventh inning. Gregor Blanco drew a walk to load the bases with one out. But the only run surrendered during the inning came courtesy of Brandon Crawford's sacrifice fly.
"He came out today and got the ball down," Gonzalez said. "There was one series of pitches that he threw to [Giants outfielder Angel Pagan], when he got him looking [at a called third strike], that he didn't miss a spot."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.