I’d just been talking to Tim Hudson.
He’d reflected calmly on Monday afternoon, standing in his underwear in front of his locker at Citi Field. (I asked if he wanted to get dressed, but Hudson never made a fuss about anything, waving me off and saying “Nah, I’m trying to cool off!”) And he talked to me about his teammate, Brian McCann.
Earlier this year, we’d chatted about Mike Minor. This wasn’t a coincidence. It didn’t really matter what the subject is, Hudson is insightful and generous with his time. But it had surprised me, when I researched the McCann piece, and had wrongly assumed that McCann was the longest-tenured Brave. It is actually Hudson.
So to see Hudson injured the way he was on Wednesday night, a collision at first base that fractured Hudson’s right ankle … well, it was hard for anyone to watch. And it was harder, thinking about Hudson’s excitement just days before, as he pondered his ninth season in Atlanta, and whether his chance to win a World Series had come at last.
“I think anybody would say that it’s a lot more special to win at a place [where] you felt like you had a part in building something,” Hudson had said on Monday. “You know, we’ve both been here for nine years, we’ve both been through some goods and some bads, and it would be very special. Obviously, he and I … I saw him when he first came up. And he caught me when I first came over to Atlanta, so it was new to both of us.”
But while McCann was a rookie during that 2005 season, Hudson had already accomplished a great deal, putting up an ERA+ of 136 over six seasons with the Oakland Athletics. It was easy to think of him as an iconic part of the Big Three in Oakland, with Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, then fading into the fabric of Braves baseball for years.
The Braves brought him on board for Juan Cruz, Charles Thomas and Dan Meyer, so that worked out pretty well. They picked the right member of the Oakland trio, with Zito fading badly after leaving Oakland and Mulder now long retired.
Hudson was largely the same pitcher in his 30’s for the Braves that he had been in his 20’s for the Athletics. The recipe was the same every year: ground balls, enough strikeouts, a few walks sprinkled in, and consistency, year after year. He had Tommy John surgery, in 2008, and then came back and was even better in 2010, his best year as a Brave. He earned an All-Star appearance — his only one in nine years as a Brave — but a lot of that had to do with his win total. It was very much a typical Tim Hudson year.
He was impossible to overlook Wednesday night, mowing down the Mets. He’s 38. He wasn’t overpowering with raw stuff; he was just the smartest one out there. You get that many strikeouts, looking, and you’ve reached a mental place that the hitter hasn’t.
Even when he fell behind, he had the advantage. Ike Davis, a badly struggling hitter, got ahead of Hudson 3-1. Hudson had to come in with a fastball, but rather than the 91 mph he’d been at most of the night, he took just enough off, at 89, to get Davis just ahead of it, lashing it foul. Then Davis looked at strike three.
It is easy, in retrospect, to second guess manager Fredi Gonzalez for having Hudson still pitching in the eighth inning of a 6-0 game. But who was thinking in such apocalyptic terms?
It is akin to getting upset with Hudson for dreaming of a World Series, when his team had run well ahead of a very flawed National League East — and when Hudson himself had pitched to a 2.77 ERA over his last nine starts, a thoroughbred running toward what might be his last chance at a championship.
“Your window of success, to win a World Series, is small,” Hudson had said Monday. “You can have a long baseball career. Not everybody has an opportunity to win a World Series.”
Now Hudson’s chance to do so is in question. The Braves didn’t play that wait-and-see game, putting out noncommittal information and downplaying an injury in the time-honored tradition. Instead, the simple tweet read: “Thoughts and prayers with Huddy.”
As for McCann, the teammate who’d played with him longest, there was no celebrating the 8-2 victory. “You see one of your very good buddies lying there on the ground,” McCann told SNY’s Kevin Burkhardt when it was over, “and it’s hard to watch.”