Tim Hudson reached the Division Series six times over the first 15 seasons of his major-league career only to be in the other dugout when the final out of the series was recorded – the one watching as his team’s opponents rushed the field in celebration, bound for the next round of the playoffs.
Tuesday night, when Joe Panik fielded Wilson Ramos’ ground ball that led to the last out of this year’s National League Division Series, it was Hudson’s team that bolted out of its dugout into a mob on the infield and Hudson’s clubhouse dressed in plastic tarp for the spraying of beer and champagne. And compared to how he had pictured the scene, the 39-year-old said: “It was everything I’d imagined, and more.”
While the Giants are back in the N.L. Championship Series for the third time in the past five seasons, Hudson, the veteran right-hander, is that far along for the first time. The Oakland A’s teams of 2000-03, which featured a harder-throwing Hudson in his mid-20s, could not get past the first round of the postseason, nor could his Atlanta Braves teams in 2005 or 2010 – the latter falling in four games to the Giants.
In that series, Hudson said, he looked across the field and saw a Giants team with players who “know how to win when it counts.” It’s part of what led him to sign with the Giants last offseason, returning to the Bay Area after nine seasons with the Braves in his native state of Georgia.
“The longer you play without having achieved that, the more magnified I think it gets with every year,” Hudson said of his early playoff exits.
“Obviously, I’m toward the end of my career here, and it’s the first time I’ve been past the first round. I don’t think there’s anybody on the field that’s going to be more emotionally involved than I am for the next series, or two series, or whatever.”
As the Giants celebrated their NLDS win over the Washington Nationals late Tuesday, several voiced happiness for the man experiencing his first. Starter Ryan Vogelsong said he had wanted to help pitch Hudson into the Championship Series. Manager Bruce Bochy said it adds to his enjoyment of advancing in the playoffs to see his players’ excitement over the clinch, and “(Hudson) was really excited (Tuesday) night.”
“I pitched a lot in high school,” said Georgia native Buster Posey. “And I don’t want to make him feel old, but I remember watching him when I was a kid. To be a teammate of his is a lot of fun, and I’m excited for him that he gets the opportunity to go a step further than he’s been.”
Hudson had come close to taking that step. In 2001, the A’s held a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series over the New York Yankees, only to lose an infamous Game 3 that featured Derek Jeter’s iconic “Flip Play” and ultimately fall to the Yankees in five games. In 2002, the A’s took a 2-1 ALDS lead before losing to Minnesota. The next year, they won the first two games against Boston, only to see the Red Sox storm back to advance.
It was hardly surprising, then, to hear Hudson speak cautiously after the Giants took a 2-0 lead over the Nationals thanks in part to his start in Game 2. While Jordan Zimmermann was dominating the Giants’ lineup into the ninth inning, Hudson kept his team in striking distance, allowing one run in 71/3 innings. It was especially notable given Hudson was coming off his worst month of the regular season in September, when he went winless in five starts with an 8.72 ERA.
Hudson later said he believed work he did with the Giants’ pitching coaches for the past couple weeks had paid off. Bochy said Hudson had likely been affected by an ailing hip in September but is “over that” now.
A freak injury last July that occurred when his right ankle was stepped on as he covered first base resulted in season-ending surgery and kept Hudson from a seventh appearance in the playoffs (the Braves lost in the NLDS to the Dodgers). Though his first trip to the NLCS comes after he spent months rehabbing from that injury, Hudson said, “I don’t know that it makes it any more special.”
“But I’m glad I’m on a winner,” he said. “It would have been tough if I wanted to extend my career after that injury and I’m making plans for vacation in July or August.”
Before the NLDS, a comment Hudson made came under national scrutiny when he said playoff success is often determined by what “you have between your legs.” Some saw it as Hudson questioning the Nationals’ fortitude. Hudson denied that, saying he was only commenting on the mental makeup of the Giants’ clubhouse.
Wednesday, Hudson was asked why he thinks this team, a wild-card entry that struggled for much of the second half, broke through to where his previous postseason contenders could not. He grinned, and answered: “It’s all about what you got between your legs.”
“Naw,” he said, “you know what, obviously you have to play well, you have to pitch well and you have to catch the ball. And you have to be lucky at times.
“That’s the one thing. Best-of-five series, any little thing can determine the outcome of a ballgame. (Washington), we beat them 3-1, but any of those games could’ve gone either way.
“But you know what, we wanted it. I think that’s the one thing, is we got a locker room full of guys in here that really want to achieve something. And we’re determined.”