Hudson earns key win for Braves in return
Strong start by veteran puts Atlanta three back in Wild Card
MIAMI -- As he endured the grueling rehab process that followed Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, there were times when Tim Hudson wondered if he'd possess his successful form once this day finally arrived.
Those bouts waged against anxiety and impatience proved to be distant memories by the time Hudson exited the mound at Land Shark Stadium on Tuesday night. His long wait proved fruitful courtesy of the impressive return he constructed while leading the Braves to a 4-3 win over the Marlins.
"I'm just happy for the opportunity to go out there and see my teammates behind me and see how happy they were for me to get back out there and compete," Hudson said. "It's been a while. It's been a long, tough road. But it was very rewarding to go out there and give us a chance to win."
Making his first Major League appearance since July 23, 2008, Hudson limited the Marlins to a pair of first-inning runs in 5 1/3 innings and aided his own cause by drawing a leadoff walk in the two-run third inning that Brian McCann capped with an RBI double off Anibal Sanchez.
McCann's productive 11-pitch at-bat was briefly interrupted when Sanchez made a pickoff move toward an unmanned first base and consequently was charged with a balk that allowed Hudson to cruise home with a tying run.
"It's nice to go out there and know that you have the stuff to do it at this level again," said Hudson, whose long wait was extended by a rain delay that lasted two hours and 50 minutes.
While winning the first two games of this four-game set, the Braves have moved two games in front of the Marlins and kept themselves within three games of the Rockies, who now own sole possession of first place in the National League Wild Card chase.
During the hours that encompassed this game, the Braves shifted some of their focus away from their postseason position and toward the return of Hudson, who made a conscious effort to remain a veteran leader and popular clubhouse figure while his right arm prevented him from pitching.
"Huddy is one of the most-liked guys ever on a team," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's extremely popular and he's extremely a team guy. He never looks out for himself. He's always looking out for the team. They love him. That makes this even better."
It had been 404 days since Hudson had exited this same mound with discomfort that would lead to the surgical procedure. His overanxious emotions were on display when he surrendered a pair of doubles within a span of his first three pitches and ended up allowing both of his runs courtesy of Jorge Cantu's two-run, first-inning single.
"That first inning he got a couple of balls that came back over the plate and ran like crazy and he got them in that hot zone," Cox said of Hudson, whose previous Minor League rehab start had occurred on Aug. 23. "After that I thought he was really good."
During a seven-pitch second inning, Hudson settled down and then gained further confidence in the third inning, when he stranded runners at first and second base by recording consecutive outs against Hanley Ramirez and Cantu.
"I think he was fine," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I thought his velocity was good. He had some nice movement on his sinker, and that's what he is -- a sinker-ball pitcher. For his first start and waiting three hours, I think he did a very nice job."
Cantu's one-out, sixth-inning double was the sixth and final hit surrendered by Hudson, who then allowed the Marlins to load the bases by ending his 82-pitch effort with consecutive walks. Peter Moylan, who also returned from Tommy John surgery this year, ended the resulting bases-loaded threat two pitches later by inducing a Cody Ross grounder that Martin Prado fielded before making an acrobatic, double-play turn.
"It's not like I needed extra incentive," Moylan said. "But I know exactly what he's gone through the past few months. It's a huge emotional roller coaster the first few months you get back. To get out of that jam was awesome and I'm really happy for him."
Hudson's victorious effort was solidified by the necessary insurance run Garret Anderson provided with his eighth-inning, RBI single off Renyel Pinto. Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla made things interesting with a ninth-inning leadoff homer against Rafael Soriano, who bounced back and notched his 21st save by getting Brett Carroll to ground into a game-ending double play.
"When you're coming in behind a guy like Tim, who is one of the nicest guys you're going to meet off the field and such a competitor on the field, it's nice to get it done," Moylan said, while echoing the sentiments of many of his teammates.
Hudson, who will have the opportunity to pitch in front of the hometown fans at Turner Field on Sunday against the Reds, understands that it might be a while before he regains the top form that he's possessed during his successful career.
But courtesy of this successful return, he now has the belief that he has the stuff to aid the Braves as they make a push toward the playoffs.
"I felt ready to get out there," Hudson said. "It probably wasn't the best I've felt in the past few weeks. But it's definitely a step in the right direction. I think when we have a little better routine from here on out, things should get a little better."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.