S A four-game losing streak? Well, that was not going to happen. Tim Hudson is still full of surprises. The veteran right-hander who underwent major ankle surgery a year ago, who spurned his hometown team for the Giants and who has established himself as the ace of the staff, on Thursday wrapped a screen around the Nats.
He threw – no, he pitched – a seven-inning gem at AT&T Park, allowing six hits, two walks and no earned runs. He also quieted concerns about June swoons and mini-slumps, and after yielding to Jean Machi and Sergio Romo in the 7-1 victory, proved that at 38, he’s not too old to take a joke.
While Hudson spoke with reporters afterward at his locker, Brandon Crawford googled (and played) a fan video tribute to the former Atlanta Braves star from a laptop in the middle of the clubhouse. The shortstop teased with the volume, increasing and decreasing noise levels of an obvious ripoff of the popular rap song “Teach Me How to Dougie.”
Hudson glanced over and smiled. What was he going to say? As Hunter Pence suggested later, this was a team needing a good laugh.
Before Hudson took the mound on a brilliant afternoon and in front of another announced sellout crowd, the Giants had lost the first three games of the series and were staring at a possible – and historic – four-game home sweep. The Giants have never lost four consecutive home games since moving into their waterfront museum in 2000.
The fact that it was Hudson snapping the streak makes an interesting season all the more intriguing and makes his personal story all the more compelling. Anyone who predicted the 6-foot-1, 174-pound Columbus, Ga., native would recover from ankle surgery and outshine a starting rotation that includes Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong is fibbing more than just a little. Add depth to a pitching staff. Mentor the mercurial Lincecum. Enhance the locker room dynamics with his feisty, tenacious attitude.
Those were the most reasonable expectations, even at two years and $23 million. Instead, and once again, Hudson is silencing skeptics who claim he is too small (and now too old), even answering his own nagging questions following the freak collision at first base that fractured his ankle and forced him to undergo delicate surgery.
“When (the ankle injury) first happened, I really wasn’t sure,” Hudson acknowledged after the clubhouse had quieted. “It was a pretty tough injury. I was 37 years old. But … ”
But there is nothing not to like here. A healthy Hudson, who has never endured a losing season, leads the major leagues with a 1.81 ERA, is 7-2 overall, and in his debut season on this side of the Bay, has yet to drop a game at home; the Giants are 7-0 in his starts at AT&T Park.
Slightly built and crafty like his boyhood idol, Greg Maddux, he attacks from all angles and with varying, if underwhelming, speeds. Against the Nationals on Thursday, he worked at his usual brisk pace, mixing breaking balls into a repertoire of sinkers and cutters that rarely exceeded 90 mph. He got away with a few deep fly balls, benefiting from Angel Pagan’s diving catch in center, and escaped fourth- and fifth-inning jams by inducing grounders that were fielded flawlessly, most notably by Crawford. Hudson, who left with a 5-1 lead and with high praise for his young shortstop, received his own favorable postgame critique.
“It starts with your starting pitcher,” said Bruce Bochy. “Huddy did a great job. He set a great tone, got some quick outs, got us back in the dugout. It’s not fun being in a situation where you’re playing the fourth game of a series and you’re trying to get from being swept here at home.”
Laughter. Relief. Boyish pranks. All of the above. And this, too: Hudson in the midst of another remarkable comeback, another impressive season. Bochy might get the last laugh, after all.