Braves' winning streak ended by Bucs
Hudson gives up four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings of work
ATLANTA -- Even though logic indicated that there had to be at least one setback, Tim Hudson wanted nothing more than to defy that assumption and help the Braves enjoy a perfect ending to what will be a memorable homestand.
But unable to solve one of the game's best young pitchers and overcome the couple of homers surrendered by Hudson on Monday afternoon at Turner Field, the Braves ended a seven-game homestand with a 4-1 loss to the Pirates.
They may not have been victorious in the finale, but the Braves probably will look back on this homestand quite favorably. While winning six of seven, they went from being tied for first place to owning a 4 1/2-game advantage over a second-place Nationals team that was swept out of Atlanta last week.
"We'll take 6-1 any time," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We had a chance to sweep it, and we didn't do it."
Despite being befuddled by rookie sensation Zach Duke for eight innings, the Braves, who began the homestand with consecutive last at-bat victories, had a chance to hit the road in dramatic style. But with runners on second and third and two outs in the ninth, Atlanta's newest sensation, Jeff Francoeur, struck out to end the game.
Francoeur, who has proven to be the right-handed bat the Braves needed in their lineup, fouled off three pitches from Pirates closer Jose Mesa and had the crowd thinking he might provide some magic, as he did with game-winning RBIs in the final two games against the Nationals. But after fouling three pitches off, the 21-year-old outfielder swung and missed the eighth pitch he saw from Mesa.
"You couldn't have a better guy right now than him up there," said Cox, who saw Francoeur hit .435 (10-for-23) with three homers and eight RBIs during the homestand.
Francoeur, who went 4-for-6 with two homers and two doubles against Duke in the Minors last year, got an abbreviated rally going against the Pirates talented starter. He doubled with one out in the fifth off the 22-year-old southpaw and then cruised home one batter later when Johnny Estrada hit a double into the left-field corner.
The consecutive doubles ended Duke's string of 30 consecutive scoreless innings. But that was the only run he'd allow while limiting the Braves to seven hits in 8 1/3 innings. After six career starts, the young phenom has won each of his four decisions, produced a 0.92 ERA and gained plenty of respect.
"You want to win every game you play," Hudson said. "Realistically, you're not going to do that. You're going to come across some pitchers you're just going to have to tip your cap to. That was the case today."
As for Hudson, who allowed four earned runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings, it was one of those days that he thought could have been much worse. While losing for the first time since coming off the disabled list, the veteran right-hander surrendered a sixth-inning two-run homer to Jose Castillo and a leadoff homer to Chris Duffy in the seventh inning.
"I didn't have very good stuff," Hudson said. "Early on, I was OK. But about the midpoint on, I was keeping the ball up and getting away with some pitches. It finally caught up to me."
After fouling off four pitches in what developed into a nine-pitch at-bat, Castillo drilled his home run off Hudson, who had allowed two home runs in just two of his previous starts this year. The most recent had come on June 13, his final start before going on the disabled list with an strained left oblique.
"[Hudson] just left that one ball up, and it got hit out for a two-run homer," Cox said. "That kind of made it out of reach with Duke pitching."
The frustration the Braves were feeling against Duke is similar to that opponents have felt against them this season. During this homestand, their starting pitchers posted a very respectable 2.98 ERA.
Offensively, the Braves proved over the past week they could win without Andruw Jones, who batted just .166 with no homers during the homestand. His production was replaced by that of Francoeur and the two catalysts at the top of the Braves lineup.
Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles hit a combined .436 during the past seven games and gave the Braves' offense the spark it needed now that Chipper Jones seems to be relocating his swing. The veteran third baseman hit .308 during the homestand and had the only two RBIs in Friday night's 2-1 win over the Pirates.
"I'm very proud of the way everybody played," Andruw Jones said. "It was a really good homestand."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.