Hudson excels on emotional day
Veteran delivers gem with grandmother, friend on his mind
ATLANTA -- This was more than a victory for the Atlanta Braves. This was a victory for the heart of Tim Hudson.
Hudson, one day after learning of the death of not only his grandmother, but of his friend and former teammate, Josh Hancock, took his turn Monday on the mound for the Atlanta Braves against the Philadelphia Phillies. Hudson rose above the sadness and pitched a game that was equal parts courageous and superb.
He drew his grandmother's initials -- VM for Vera Mickle -- on the dirt behind the mound and wore her initials on his spikes. He had Hancock's initials on his jersey. It was Tim Hudson's sincere belief that in a way, both of them were still with him.
"It was kind of tough, but I know that my grandmother and Josh, they were some of the biggest baseball fans ever," Hudson said. "You know, I wasn't the only one out there pitching. I thought I had a little help out there tonight."
Hudson pitched eight innings and allowed only two runs against the imposing Philadelphia lineup. He did not get the decision, but he made the victory possible, keeping the Braves in the game until Andruw Jones won it in the ninth with a majestic three-run home run that made the final score 5-2.
Hudson made this look easy. But on this night, for this pitcher, it was the furthest thing from easy.
"It was mentally draining, but we have jobs to do," Hudson said. "There's a lot of people in baseball who play this game and compete with a lot on their minds. They're no different than anybody else. Obviously, tragedy is tough to deal with regardless of what you do, but you still have to go out there.
"It was tough circumstances, but I know that Josh and my grandmother would want me nowhere else but out there doing my job."
True, Hudson has pitched superbly all April. He entered this start with a 3-0 record and his ERA of 1.22 led Major League Baseball. But he hadn't had to pitch carrying anything like the kind of emotional weight that was with him on this night.
This was Hudson's night to pitch, but this turn was wedged between immense sadness. He had received two telephone calls on Sunday morning. The first informed him of the death of his grandmother. The second informed him of the death of Hancock, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who died in an auto accident. Hancock was a teammate of Hudson's at Auburn University.
"He was a good kid," Hudson said of Hancock. "It was numbing. I still don't really know what to say. My heart goes out to his family."
In the Braves' game notes for Monday night, Hudson's last start was referred to as a "heartbreaker." For baseball, it qualified. Hudson had pitched eight shutout innings against the Florida Marlins, striking out a career-high 12. But a few scratch hits by the Marlins in the ninth, combined with a blown save by the Braves' bullpen, resulted in a no-decision for Hudson.
The eight innings that Hudson pitched on Monday night weren't as statistically overpowering, but in a way they were about as impressive as anything a pitcher could do. His work would have been considered truly substantial, even without the surrounding tragedies -- eight innings, two earned runs, four hits, one walk, one strikeout, 94 pitches, 64 strikes. But then you add the weight of sadness to it, and this performance becomes a thing of inspiration.
The other Braves understood exactly what Hudson had done with the sadness.
"He used it as a positive," Chipper Jones said. "He used it as inspiration. You know, out there between those lines it's a sanctuary for us. ... Life is very fragile, as we all just found out."
This is what the week had in store for Hudson: He learns of the two deaths on Sunday. On Tuesday, he will attend his grandmother's funeral. On Thursday, an off-day for the Braves, he will attend Hancock's funeral.
A lesser competitor, a lesser man, might have looked at this start, this job in the middle of all this grief, as something to be avoided. Tim Hudson turned the grief into a reason to succeed.
"There was a lot of motivation for me to go out there and pitch well," he said. "You go out there and pitch with a heavy heart, and if you give it up, it would be easy to use that an excuse. That was something I didn't want to happen. I just wanted to go out there and pitch and give us a good chance to win. At the end of the day, we came out on the winning side of it and that's all that counts."
With all due respect, the rest of us might add one amendment to that last statement. Of course, this was about the Atlanta Braves winning. But it was also about Tim Hudson and his grandmother's initials and Josh Hancock's initials. It was about a man taking his grief and turning it into a way to honor the passing of those he cared about. It won't show up in the standings, but what Tim Hudson did Monday night was demonstrate the inspirational possibilities of the human heart.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.