ATLANTA -- Tim Hudson was one pitch away from getting out of the biggest jam he found himself in all night, one pitch away from keeping the Braves up one run on Chipper Jones Day, as declared by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
With runners on first and third and two outs in the seventh Friday, Hudson was up in the count 1-2 on Mets left fielder Lucas Duda. After getting ahead, however, Hudson was unable to put him away. The 1-2 count became a full one. Hudson threw Duda an 88-mph sinker and Duda turned on it, driving the ball into the right-field seats for a three-run home run. Duda's blast was enough to power the Mets to a 3-1 victory, spoiling the Braves' tribute to Jones and snapping their five-game winning streak.
"It's frustrating," Hudson said. "One pitch pretty much put a damper on the night. I didn't make a very good pitch right there, and it cost us the game."
The loss also represented a missed opportunity to tighten the race in the National League East. The Nationals lost Friday, meaning the Braves could have closed the gap to three games with five to play. Instead, they remain four games back, and the Nationals' magic number to clinch the division is just two.
"It's a slim margin [for error]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You just hate to lose an opportunity with a pretty good pitched ballgame for [Hudson]."
Hudson had cruised through the first six innings before running into trouble in the seventh. Daniel Murphy led off the inning with a double, the first extra-base hit Hudson allowed. David Wright followed with a sinking line drive to right field that appeared destined to fall in for a game-tying double until Jason Heyward dove, fully extending his 6-foot-5 frame to snare the ball for an out.
"If I can make a play, I try to make a play," Heyward said. "I was fortunate to do so right there and give us an out."
After an intentional walk, Hudson struck out Scott Hairston, setting the scene for Duda's heroics.
Hudson allowed three runs on five hits in seven innings. Before the homer, Hudson was collecting plenty of ground-ball outs with his sinker. He got 10 ground-ball outs to go with his four strikeouts.
But for Hudson, his start all came back to the last pitch he threw to Duda.
"I feel like I threw the ball really well tonight," Hudson said. "Really, just one pitch cost us the game. Very rarely do you feel like just one pitch cost you the game, but tonight it was one pitch."
Hudson's outing might have been enough for a victory had the Braves been able to solve Mets starter Jon Niese. Niese allowed just one run, Freddie Freeman's towering home run to right field in the fourth inning. The Braves managed just four hits in seven innings off the left-hander. The Braves only had multiple baserunners in two innings, and Niese didn't allow anyone other than Freeman to advance past second base.
Jones' tribute night brought a sellout crowd of 51,910 to Turner Field. It was the largest crowd of the season and seventh largest in stadium history. The fans arrived early to watch a half-hour celebration of Jones' career that included Braves greats such as Hank Aaron and Bobby Cox.
Jones was moved by the night and said it was difficult to transition from the ceremony to playing a game. He said the outpouring of love, which continued with video messages played between innings, had him perpetually tearing up.
"I even said to [Mets catcher] Josh Thole when I stepped into the box one time, 'How in the heck am I supposed to hit with all of this going on?'" Jones said. "It got to me."
Jones has often been able to pick the Braves' offense up in key situations, but for perhaps the first time this season he had a low-key game on a big stage. Expectations were high for Jones to deliver a dramatic moment after hitting two home runs on his bobblehead night and piling up walk-off home runs. But after fielding a ground ball for the first out of the game, Jones grounded out four times himself.
"It's hard to feel bad about the loss when everybody showed me such a great day," Jones said. "I wish we had played better. I wish I had played better.
"But that's baseball."
Teddy Cahill is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.