05/28/08 12:20 AM ET
Comeback starts road trip on sour note
Runs in seventh, eighth, ninth innings send Braves to loss
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
What appeared might be a memorable night for Tim Hudson, instead, turned into one that will haunt him and Braves manager Bobby Cox. They'll never know if the next few nights would be less restless if Hudson never would have taken the mound for the eighth inning at Miller Park on Tuesday night.
But they do know how utterly frustrated they felt after that eighth-inning gamble backfired and allowed the Brewers to claim a 3-2 win over the Braves, who have now lost 10 of their last 13 road games.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," Hudson said. "We just let it slip away. It's a game we should have won."
Had they been at home, this story might have had a different ending. But the one that was presented actually proved to be all too familiar for the Braves, who have won just six of their first 23 road games this year.
Whatever momentum they might have gained by winning eight of 11 during their last homestand, was either lost on Monday night's flight to Milwaukee or with Cox's decision not to pinch-hit for Hudson to begin the top of the eighth inning.
With Tom Glavine and Jair Jurrjens having both lasted just 4 2/3 innings in their starts on Sunday and Monday, Cox entered this three-game series against the Brewers with a short-handed bullpen. Blaine Boyer wasn't available and Manny Acosta was targeted as the closer.
As for Jeff Bennett, who eventually surrendered Mike Cameron's walk-off sacrifice fly, Cox didn't want to use him unless necessary. Thus despite the fact that he'd surrendered his first run in the seventh and already thrown 103 pitches, Hudson was sent to the plate to begin the top of the eighth inning.
"He was plenty strong," said Cox, whose gamble not to pinch-hit for Hudson looked like it might work when his ace needed just four pitches to retire the first two batters in the bottom of the eighth.
Things then got interesting when Prince Fielder beat a defensive shift with a two-out single that was followed by a Corey Hart double that was just out of third baseman Chipper Jones' reach. After an intentional walk to Russell Branyan, who had doubled to begin the seventh, Hudson incurred some physical and mental anguish courtesy of the J.J. Hardy game-tying RBI single that followed.
Hardy's single hit off Hudson's right foot and landed in no-man's land on the infield grass. One pitch later, the inning was over for Hudson, who actually had been just one pitch away from becoming the second National League pitcher with nine wins this season.
"It's one of those things where I felt alright," Hudson said. "I just needed to make some more good pitches."
When Bennett surrendered Bill Hall's ninth-inning leadoff single, there was further reason to believe it was going to be yet another familiar ending for the Braves, who have now lost 13 of the 15 one-run games they've played this season. Two batters later, Cameron lofted his game-winning sacrifice fly to Gregor Blanco, who moved to left field after Matt Diaz suffered a left posterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee in the sixth inning.
"Hudson pitched his rear end off the entire ballgame and he deserved a lot better," said Cox, who will get some bullpen reinforcement on Wednesday when Rafael Soriano is expected to be activated from the disabled list.
While Hudson encountered his problems late, Brewers starter Dave Bush proved quite successful after surrendering solo homers to Kelly Johnson and Blanco in the first two innings. Over his final five innings, he kept the Braves scoreless and limited them to just three hits.
"He was effectively wild," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He hung a curveball out of the zone and then would paint one with the next pitch. ... If there was anything we could have changed it would have been to be more patient."
Even when Hudson contributed a one-out double in the fifth inning, Bush was able to escape danger at the top of the lineup. But such has been the case for the Braves when they are away from Turner Field. After going hitless in four opportunities on Tuesday, they are now hitting .201 with runners in scoring position on the road.
Meanwhile at home, where they've won 15 of their last 18 games, they're hitting .309 with runners in scoring position.
"You're not going to win if you score just two runs," said McCann, who followed Mark Teixeira's sixth-inning single with an inning-ending double play. "That's what you have to look at."
Unfortunately for Hudson and Cox, about all they'll remember from this evening is the eighth inning.
"We just let it slip away," Hudson said. "It's a game we should have won."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.