ATLANTA -- Bidding to notch their first winning season since being bounced by the Braves during a dramatic 1992 National League Championship Series, the Pirates have become baseball's feel-good story this year.
While opening a seven-game homestand with a 3-1 loss to the Pirates on Monday night at Turner Field, the Braves had little reason to feel good and plenty of reason to be frustrated by the toxic combination of mental mistakes and squandered opportunities.
"You feel like you left a small village out there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We had some opportunities with some people on base, and we just couldn't get the knock."
The offense's inability to take advantage of numerous scoring opportunities only magnified the mistakes made by Tim Hudson, who paid for each of the three walks he issued, and former Pirate Nate McLouth, whose ill-advised decision to throw to third base helped the Pirates tally at least one of their two second-inning runs.
"I'm really disappointed in the outcome, just because I felt really good," Hudson said. "I felt like my stuff was really good. I felt like I was commanding everything really good. On a few instances, I lost the zone a little bit and just walked too many guys."
Chipper Jones' eighth-inning leadoff homer prevented a shutout and stood as one of the few bright spots for the Braves, who have lost five of their past seven games and three straight. This was Jones' first game since his right knee was repaired via an arthroscopic surgical procedure on July 9.
Keeping with the theme of an odd evening, which began with a two-hour rain delay, Jones exited after his eighth-inning homer with a strained right quad muscle. He tweaked the muscle while charging to field Neil Walker's sixth-inning dribbler and will be reevaluated on Tuesday.
"We had opportunities all night and just kind of squandered them," said Hudson, who was 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA in his previous six starts.
Hudson notched three of his eight strikeouts in a perfect first inning and saw just two of his 21 outs recorded outside of the infield. Unfortunately, Lyle Overbay's routine second-inning flyout produced more damage than necessary.
After Hudson issued consecutive walks to begin the inning, McLouth caught Overbay's fly ball in center and decided to throw toward third base, where the speedy Andrew McCutchen was heading. McLouth's decision to throw toward third and inability to even hit the cutoff man allowed Pedro Alvarez to erase the double-play possibility by advancing to second base.
"You don't want to just lollipop the ball to second base," McLouth said. "I was trying to make a strong throw to the cutoff man. It ended up not working out that way, but that was my intent."
McCutchen scored when Ronny Cedeno followed with a sharp grounder that took Jones toward second base. While the veteran third baseman might not have been able to turn an inning-ending double play, Alvarez's presence on second base erase the possibility of forcing him out on Cedeno's grounder. The Pirates' third baseman scored moments later on Michael McKenry's single to left.
"Whether you turn [the double play] or not, who knows?" Gonzalez said. "But at least it's just one run. We talked about it in the dugout. It's a situation where he knows better. As soon as he let it go, I'm sure he knew that it wasn't a good play. ... We're not even talking about it if we get some runs on the board."
On the way to losing for the first time in seven starts, Hudson worked seven innings, allowed three earned runs and surrendered five hits. The Braves veteran proved more efficient than Pirates starter James McDonald, who managed to keep Atlanta scoreless despite being tagged for eight hits over 5 1/3 innings.
McDonald allowed singles to three of the four hitters he faced in the third inning but escaped unscathed with the fortune gained when Jason Heyward lined into a double play. The right-hander exited with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning and then watched as former Brave Chris Resop killed the threat by retiring McLouth and Alex Gonzalez, who is now 4-for-41 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
"There was a lot going through my head tonight, obviously with Atlanta being my last team," Resop said. "I guess I was a little more pumped up than normal going against Atlanta. But again, you're trying to focus on the hitter and getting one hitter out at a time to try and minimize the damage in that situation."
Hudson, who had issued one walk or fewer in seven of his previous 10 starts, also paid for the one-out walk he issued to Garrett Jones in the sixth. Proving unselfish, Walker then reached across the plate and put a pitchout in play to protect Jones as he was stealing second base.
Jones scored when McCutchen followed with an RBI single that McLouth bobbled in center field. While the run would have scored with or without the bobble, the Braves center fielder came toward the dugout seemingly infuriated. He admitted after the game that he was upset about the contour of the outfield grass.
"They made their hits count tonight," Hudson said. "They got the big hits when they got opportunities to score, and we didn't. We didn't get any big hits."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.