Hudson leads way in Braves victory
Hurler backed by big hits to down Astros on Independence Day
ATLANTA -- Late Thursday night, when his team was being swept again by the Phillies and he had to perform the gut-wrenching task of sending Jeff Francoeur back to the Minors, Braves manager Bobby Cox was at one of the lowest points he wishes to encounter.
But by the time Tim Hudson had continued his dominance of the Astros at Turner Field on Friday night, Cox and the rest of the Braves once again had reason to smile.
If the pessimist declared the Braves' season to be doomed for despair with Thursday night's loss, then the optimist could just as easily declare that Friday night's 6-2 series-opening win over the Astros as the start of an uphill climb that still could lead Cox's team to its desired destination.
This win immediately cured a lot of ills and more importantly snapped a five-game losing streak, during which the Braves never even had a lead. When Mark Kotsay produced a second-inning sacrifice fly off Astros starter Brian Moehler, he gave his team its first lead in a span of 46 innings.
"We've had some tough luck and it's easy to get down," said Hudson, who is 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA in nine home starts this year. "But we've just got to go out there and fight through it and get things going in the right direction."
Over the past two decades, the Braves have been able to avoid many lengthy losing streaks with the help of performances like this one from Hudson, who allowed just one earned run and four hits in seven innings. In four career starts against the Astros, the Braves ace is 2-0 with a 1.16 ERA.
"It was a great job by Huddy again," Cox said. "We got him some runs to work with, which was great."
Adding to the offensive ineptitude during the five-game losing streak was the fact that it was a span during which the Braves never scored before the fifth inning. They put an end to that dry spell with Friday's two-run second inning, which was highlighted by a Jason Perry two-out, RBI triple that scored a determined Brian McCann from first base and gave Perry the unique distinction of recording a hit in his first Major League at-bat.
Many of the fans who chose to spend their Independence Day at Turner Field might not have even known anything about Perry, who had been promoted from Triple-A Richmond earlier in the day to take the roster spot of Francoeur, who will spend the next couple of weeks with Double-A Mississippi.
Perry, who was raised about 20 minutes south of Turner Field and played in college with Mark Teixeira at Georgia Tech, made the most of the opportunity to make his Major League debut in front of his hometown faithful, which included approximately nine family members. The 27-year-old outfielder, who went to Jonesboro High School, became the first Brave in Atlanta history to triple in his first Major League at-bat.
"They're not around very often," Perry said of triples. "I'm not going to hit 10 or 15 in a year. But to have that be my first [hit] ... the only thing better would have been to have a homer."
Hudson, who had encountered a rough sixth inning and surrendered six earned runs in his previous start, kept the Astros scoreless through the first five innings and might have escaped the evening unscathed if Kelly Johnson hadn't bobbled a Mark Loretta grounder that could have led to a double play that would have ended the sixth inning. Lance Berkman took advantage by following with a two-out RBI single.
"You have to give [Hudson] some credit," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "That's a quality pitcher. If he's down in the zone like he was tonight, hitting his spots, it's pretty hard to handle a guy like that. Especially if you give him a cushion to work with."
After giving the Astros a chance to score against Hudson, Johnson responded in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two-run homer that gave the Braves plenty of cushion. Mike Gonzalez ended the game with two strikeouts in a perfect ninth inning in a non-save situation.
"Tonight's a good start," Johnson said. "Getting to the [All-Star] break with a hot streak here would be really nice and huge for the team."
After Thursday night's loss, McCann said the Braves wanted to at least have a .500 record heading into the All-Star break. To do so, they would have had to win eight of their next nine games. Now as they begin to crawl back toward respectability, they need to win just seven of their next eight games and the All-Star catcher helped make this initial step.
Entering the game, the seemingly always-clutch McCann had recorded just one hit in his previous 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position. His second-inning single helped produce the first two runs of the game and his third-inning RBI single took advantage of a Berkman two-out error and also halted his mini-drought with runners in scoring position.
"It was just a nicely played game," Cox said. "It can spiral into something. That's what we're looking for. We want to finish up the first half [of the season] on a positive note and go get them in the second [half]."
Mark Bowman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.