08/13/10 11:50 PM ET
Conrad's clout backs Hudson's gem
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Brooks Conrad is simply giving these same fans reason to feel better about the fact that Chipper Jones will not be playing again this year.
Conrad's seventh-inning homer off Hiroki Kuroda provided Hudson all the support he needed while firing eight scoreless innings and helping the Braves claim a 1-0 win over the Dodgers on Friday night at Turner Field.
"Huddy has been on such a roll," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It's been eye-opening to tell you the truth."
While allowing just two earned runs in the 36 2/3 innings that have encompassed his past five starts, Hudson has been producing some ridiculous stats. Still, they aren't necessarily as surprising as the fact that Conrad has now given the Braves a lead in the seventh inning or later with four of the seven homers that he has tallied this season.
"He's been amazing with the game winners," Cox said of the 30-year-old Conrad, who totaled two homers and appeared in just 36 Major League games before earning his first Opening Day roster spot this season.
After trading zeroes with Hudson through the first six innings, Kuroda was unable to keep Conrad from further endearing himself to these Braves fans, who have adopted him as their beloved underdog. The long-time Minor Leaguer drilled the Japanese hurler's 2-0 fastball over the center-field wall to account for the evening's lone run.
"I had a lot of at-bats in the Minor Leagues and some home runs down there, but none of those mean anything," said Conrad, who compiled 154 homers during nine Minor League seasons. "Coming up here and helping the big league team win has been really special. Hopefully I can keep doing it."
This marked the second time this week that Conrad has delivered a game-winning blast. When Jones tore the left anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Tuesday night, Conrad entered to play third base and hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth inning off Astros closer Matt Lindstrom.
With his latest-game winner, Conrad and Hudson combined to help the Braves gain a three-game lead over the second-place Phillies, who had won eight of their previous 10 games before suffering a 1-0 loss to the Mets on Friday night.
"I feel good and I'm happy with how I've given the team a chance to win, especially this late in the season as tight as the race is," said Hudson. "That's really all you can ask of our starting pitchers is to go out there and give us a chance to win."
Hudson limited the Dodgers to just three hits during his 91-pitch effort that was preserved by the scoreless ninth that gave Billy Wagner his 29th save. Humid conditions led Cox to prevent his rejuvenated ace from bidding for what would have been just his fourth shutout since joining the Braves before the start of the 2005 season.
"It's still humid as heck," Cox said. "Eight innings, I don't care what the pitch count is, is probably enough for anybody right now."
Hudson quickly corrected the command issues that were present when he began the evening with a five-pitch walk to Scott Podsednik and then fell behind James Loney with a 3-0 count before the Dodgers first baseman lined out to shortstop Alex Gonzalez to end the first inning. The Braves veteran hurler would go to a three-ball count against just one of the final 23 batters that he faced.
Matt Kemp recorded the Dodgers' first hit with a second-inning single that simply put him in position to be retired on the Jamey Carroll double-play groundout that followed. Hudson would then retire 12 consecutive batters before Podsednik singled with two outs in the sixth inning.
Podsednik's first-inning walk put him in position to be the only Dodger to touch second base in this series opener. Hudson has faced just six more than the minimum during the 16 scoreless innings that have encompassed his past two starts.
"Hudson is back to the guy I remember in Oakland," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Just very tough. He doesn't give in. He stays down. His pitch count was terrific. We couldn't mount any offense."
"I just go out there and throw it," Hudson said. "I'm going to be honest with you, I'm feeling good. I feel like I'm throwing some pretty good stuff up there."
While going 5-0 with a 0.49 ERA in these five outings, Hudson has ventured into Maddux territory. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he entered Friday as the first Braves pitcher since Maddux to have allowed one run or fewer and work at least six innings in four consecutive starts.
Maddux allowed four earned runs in the start that followed that four-start string at the end of the 2000 season. During the 1999 season, the four-time Cy Young Award winner enjoyed a six-start stretch in which he allowed one run or fewer. Hudson will have a chance to match that string when he faces the Nationals on Wednesday.
"His ball is darting everywhere and he's an ace," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game and he's showing it every start."
Hudson's 14 victories match Phillies ace Roy Halladay for the second-highest total recorded in the National League this year and his 2.13 ERA ranks as the Senior Circuit's second-best mark. While some of his teammates were celebrating the fact that he'd improved his Cy Young Award credentials, he was taking some time to enjoy yet another of Conrad's game-winning blasts.
"I want to give him a kiss," Hudson said. "I told him that I'd buy him a beer on the next plane flight."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.