Programming note: For comprehensive Giants-Cardinals NLCS coverage, watch “October Quest” Wednesday at 4 p.m. and immediately following the game on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
SAN FRANCISCO – In the end, Tim Hudson could smile.
His first career start in a League Championship Series didn’t follow the script he would have preferred. But the scoreboard dictates the mood for the Giants right-hander, who’s in the twilight of his career and experiencing his first deep playoff run.
Hudson was handed an early four-run lead Tuesday and couldn’t make it stand. But he watched his teammates pull out a see-it-to-believe-it 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS. With that, the Giants took the upper hand in this best-of-seven series.
“You know, any time you take a 4-0 lead early in the game like that, I feel like we should win those games 10 out of 10 times,” Hudson said. “To have it tied up right there was tough. But the guys really battled and picked me up, just like they have all year.”
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The 16-year veteran said the adrenaline was pumping as he took the mound, having never advanced past the Division Series round in six previous tries. By the time he took the mound for the top of the second, his teammates had given him a 4-0 lead.
He gave up a two-out, two-run triple in the fourth to Kolten Wong, a player who’s terrorized the Giants over the past two games.
In the sixth, Jhonny Peralta drove in another two-out run with a hard bouncer that skipped over the glove of third baseman Pablo Sandoval. No major fault of Hudson’s there.
But he was kicking himself in the seventh, when manager Bruce Bochy sent him out to protect a one-run lead even though he had lefty Jeremy Affeldt ready in the bullpen.
“I felt he was still throwing the ball well,” Bochy said. “Where they were at (in the batting order), I had Jeremy ready, but (Hudson) was going to start that inning.”
Hudson retired A.J. Pierzynski on a fly out and up stepped No. 8 hitter Randal Grichuk. The rookie jumped on the first pitch and lined a game-tying homer off the left-field foul pole, the 12th homer in seven playoff games for the Cardinals, who went deep fewer times than any N.L. team during the regular season.
Bochy came with the hook and Hudson’s day was done after 6 1/3 innings. He gave up four runs on seven hits, striking out five with no walks. But he wished he had back his 89th and final pitch.
“One thing that can kill you in that situation is giving up a homer to the No. 8 hitter, and you know they are going to pinch-hit for the pitcher right after him,” Hudson said. “It was probably the worst cutter I’d thrown all day. It just backed up on me and went right into his swing.”
Hudson retired Grichuk on a grounder to short and a strikeout over his first two plate appearances. But it’s worth noting that opponents slugged .495 off Hudson in their third trip through the lineup during the regular season.
Nonetheless, Hudson’s teammates rallied for a victory in the 10th when Gregor Blanco laid down a sacrifice bunt with two runners on and Cardinals reliever Randy Choate threw the ball wildly to first, allowing Brandon Crawford to score the winning run.
Hudson, 39, entered this postseason with a 3.19 ERA over 11 previous playoff appearances, 10 of them starts. His teams were just 2-8 in those starts – Hudson pitched well in some of them even if his teammates couldn’t rally around him.
He’s made two starts this postseason. In Game 2 of the NLDS against Washington, Brandon Belt homered in the top of the 18th to win it. Then came Tuesday’s thriller.
Hudson had retreated to the clubhouse to ice his arm like he normally does upon leaving a game. But he put his uniform back on and was in the dugout in time to see the winning rally. Crawford drew a walk, Juan Perez singled (after twice failing to get a bunt down) and Choate misplayed Blanco’s bunt in a Giants victory.
Hudson could only grin afterward.
“It unfolded just how we planned.”