SAN FRANCISCO – After giving up four runs in the first inning of the Braves’ road-trip opener at Washington, Tim Hudson came out pitching like a man determined not to give an inch to the Giants on Sunday night.
Staked to a two-run lead in the first inning, Hudson took a three-hit shutout to the seventh and the Braves won 7-1 to split a four-game series with San Francisco at AT&T Park.
Hudson (13-5) won his seventh consecutive decision and Juan Francisco, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman homered for the Braves, who are back to 4-1/2 games behind NL East leader Washington. The Nationals were swept by Philadelphia and have lost four in a row.
“It was important to at least come out of here with a split,” said Hudson, who allowed one run, five hits and one walk in seven innings, moving to 7-0 in his past 10 starts. “Any time you lose the first two in a four-game series, it’s tough to come out with a split. But we were able to come out here and get a couple of runs early, and I was able to throw strikes and make those guys put it in play.”
He faced four batters or fewer in every inning until the seventh, when the Giants loaded the bases with one out and Hudson got out of the jam by yielding only a sacrifice fly.
“Huddy’s our ace,” said catcher Brian McCann, who had his first three-hit game since June 6. “We feel very confident with him on the mound, and we feel like in big games he’s even better. We expect him to do stuff like that, because he’s that good.”
Heyward and Freeman homered on consecutive pitches in the ninth inning, and each finished with three homers in the series.
“Terrific [series for] both of them,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Jason keeps coming up big. And when he doesn’t come up big offensively, it seems like he does something on the basepath or with a defensive play.”
Heyward has six homers in 10 games at AT&T Park, including one in each of the last three in the series (he didn’t start the opener).
The Braves beat Tim Lincecum (7-14) for the fourth straight time and moved to 3-4 on a 10-game trip that concludes in San Diego with a series starting Monday night. The Padres have won seven in a row.
The first pitch was just after 5 p.m. on a sunny afternoon, and shadows crept across the field for much of the game.
“It was a day where you definitely needed to go out there and pound the strike zone,” said Hudson, who has a 3.19 ERA over his past 10 starts, including nine Braves wins. “It wasn’t exactly easy to see out there from a hitter’s point of view. It was my job to pound the strike zone and make them try to hurt me that way, not give them free passes.”
The Alabama native started his major league career across the bay in Oakland, and Hudson has handled the Giants since moving back home to the South. He’s 8-4 in 17 career starts against San Francisco, including 6-0 with a 2.48 ERA in his past nine starts.
He had a 2-0 lead after a first inning that saw Braves get two walks and two hits including a bloop single by McCann. He’s struggled while playing with a frayed labrum and cyst in his right shoulder, but McCann had a big game with three hits including a bunt single up the third-base line in the eighth to beat the type of defensive shift many teams use against him.
Francisco’s solo homer off Lincecum in the fourth went out in the deepest part of the ballpark, sailing an estimated 454 feet. Francisco filled in for Chipper Jones, who missed his second consecutive start with a sore oblique and back.
It was the retiring third baseman’s last scheduled game at San Francisco, and Jones got a standing ovation when he pinch-hit for Hudson in the eighth inning.
His primary backup Francisco has done good work, and Braves third basemen have totaled 21 homers and 80 RBIs. Only two NL teams had more homers or more RBIs from the position before Sunday.
Lincecum was charged with five hits and three runs in five innings. After winning his first five regular-season starts against the Braves, Lincecum has lost five of his past six including four in a row. He has a decision in all eleven regular-season starts against them.
Paul Janish’s two-out triple in the sixth pushed the Braves lead to 5-0, a comfortable lead for any pitcher but particularly for Hudson. He improved his career record to 152-6 in starts when his team has scored at least four runs while he was in the game.
The pitcher also had two hits to make him 10-for-32 (.313) with five RBIs in his past 16 games.
“Nice game, Huddy,” McCann shouted across the clubhouse afterward.
“I pitched pretty good, too,” Hudson said, smiling.
Atlanta won nationally televised games Saturday and Sunday to split the four-game series against the Giants, who had won five in a row and 15 out of 21 before the weekend losses in front of packed houses. They’ve had 149 consecutive sellouts at AT&T Park.
“It’s good to salvage this series after going down 0-2 to a team that was as hot as they were,” McCann said. “To win the last two – you would take a split coming out here playing a team that’s hot.”