OAKLAND — There was anguish on Bruce Bochy’s face, but across the room, Tim Hudson smiled.
This wasn’t how Hudson pictured his last start in Oakland going, and pulling Hudson in the middle of an at-bat was the last thing Bochy wanted to do Saturday. Hudson was not supposed to come out of the game before Barry Zito, who was making his first big league start in two years. Bochy felt he had no choice.
“When he missed those two pitches (to Josh Reddick), I just said, I’ve got to protect him,” Bochy said after a 14-10 win, a pained look in his eyes. “It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make on a Tim Hudson day, but you’ve got to do what’s right, and I felt that at that point that I have to protect him.
“I had to protect someone I respect, someone I care about.”
In an odd way, that sort of summed up this whole incredible day. It was about respect and love, from teammates and managers and most of all fans. Hudson and Zito spent all morning getting showered with appreciation, but when the game actually started they lasted just 51 minutes. Even then, the respect and love kept pouring out of both dugouts and every section of the Coliseum. Nobody cared much that the play was mostly sloppy and both pitchers struggled.
“It was a crazy game,” Hudson said. “It wasn’t quite the pitcher’s duel we imagined.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Parker homers three times, Giants storm past A's]
Hudson and Zito got just 10 combined outs in a game that finished with a football score, but that didn’t matter. This game — between one team long eliminated and another team on the brink of elimination — was about celebrating two of the best pitchers in Bay Area history, two veterans who formed two-thirds of a historic trio here a decade ago.
Both are now on the edge of retirement, a decision Hudson made in the offseason and has never wavered from. The 40-year-old is a beloved figure in the clubhouse and the Giants made no secret of the fact that their 2014 title run was spurred in part by a desire to get Hudson his first ring. While the public focus has been on Saturday’s start, the Giants have actually spent the entire week honoring the right-hander. .
After Wednesday’s game in San Diego, a private dinner was held for Hudson. Players had also secretly ordered cream-colored polo shirts — the official Hudson travel outfit — and bald caps that every player and team employee wore as the Giants flew back to San Francisco on Thursday night. Even Bochy got into the act, although the latex cap wasn’t a great fit.
[VIDEO: Giants dress up as Hudson]
“I couldn’t wear it for long,” said Bochy, who has a famously large head. “But I did for 20 minutes.”
Hudson Week continued Saturday morning, when players and coaches wore t-shirts with his name and number on the back.
“I walked in and they were a good looking group,” Hudson said. “These guys the last week or so, they’ve really gone out of their way to make things special for me.”
Bochy has been looking forward to this game since it first became a possibility after Zito was called up. He didn't want to pull Hudson, but the second inning quickly spiraled out of control. Hudson had a quick first inning but opened the second with a walk and hit-by-pitch. After an error, he walked in two runs. Another pitch got away and hit Mark Canha, and when Hudson went 2-0 on Reddick, Bochy came out with the hook. Hudson threw just 34 pitches and only 12 strikes.
“I couldn’t find the strike zone,” Hudson said. “Usually when something like that happens, you find it pretty quickly. I couldn’t quite get a handle on it. It was weird. It was a strange deal. It was pretty obvious they weren't going to swing the bat and they were going to make me throw strikes, and I couldn't do it."
Hudson started his career here in 1999 and won 92 games for the A’s over six seasons. The crowd — a mix of Giants and A’s fans — showed appreciation for him all afternoon, giving Hudson standing ovations when he went to warm up, when he first took the mound, and when he was pulled by Bochy, who got booed as he walked to the mound.
After Ryan Vogelsong got the Giants out of the second inning, Hudson was shown on the new scoreboard at the Coliseum and announced as Major League Baseball’s active wins leader. He took a step out toward the field, waving to fans and the A’s, and tapping his heart several times.
"It was just a good moment, I think, for fans,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t expect.”
Zito was the one who was supposed to be on a strict pitch count, but he outlasted his longtime friend. While Hudson spent the majority of his big league career in Atlanta, Zito has stayed in the Bay Area, winning a Cy Young Award with the A’s and getting two rings during seven up-and-down years in San Francisco. He returned to the A’s this season and spent the entire year with Triple-A Nashville before getting a chance to make this cameo appearance.
Zito’s return lasted just two innings and 48 pitches. He gave up a two-run double to Marlon Byrd, a solo homer to Jarrett Parker and an RBI single to Kelby Tomlinson, none of whom played with Zito.
While the Giants warmed up in their Hudson shirts, Zito got his own kind of support. His teammates pulled their socks up to emulate Zito, and he got the same scoreboard treatment after walking Buster Posey to lead off the third inning. The Giants stepped out of their dugout and applauded their former teammate.
When it had all died down hours later, Zito said he hopes to pitch again this season. Hudson has the same plan.
Bochy pulled Hudson in large part because he didn’t think Hudson was right physically. He figured his bothersome hip was acting up, although Hudson later told reporters that he’s not any more banged-up than usual. It has been clear for the better part of two seasons that Hudson is nowhere near 100 percent, but that likely won’t keep him from taking the field at AT&T Park for one last goodbye. He is currently scheduled to face the Dodgers on Thursday.
“That’s something I’d like to do,” he said. “Today didn’t go how I wanted.”
Hudson paused and flashed a mischievous grin.
“I didn’t throw that many pitches,” he said. “Next time out maybe I’ll be nice and fresh.”