Programming note: Coverage of Thursday's Giants-Diamondbacks series finale starts at Noon on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area with Giants Pregame Live.
PHOENIX -- The Giants rotation is back on firm footing. And eight months after being carted off the field, his ankle in a twisted heap, so is Tim Hudson.
It was more than a successful debut with a new team when Hudson fired 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 2-0 victory Wednesday night at Chase Field.
It was more than a 206th career win, nudging Hudson ahead of C.C. Sabathia for the most by an active major league pitcher.
It was a rebirth of body and spirit, and personal affirmation for a wise and wisecracking 38-year-old right-hander that his last act on a baseball field wouldn’t be clutching the cold steel of a gurney.
That thought went through Hudson’s mind on July 24 of last year at New York's Citi Field, when he stepped on first base and Mets runner Eric Young Jr. inadvertently hit bone instead of bag. Hudson lay on his back in full repose, eyes closed, as if laid out on the mechanical cart by a funeral director. He wondered if this would be his baseball requiem.
He wondered for more than one night. It wasn’t until two months into his rehab from a fracture and a torn ligament, he said, that he began to think it would be possible to compete at the highest level again.
“It was coming along, and well, I realized coming back was a strong possibility,” Hudson said. “Free agency came and here I am.”
There he was, in Giants grays. But not soaking wet from one of those celebratory beer showers.
“Nah,” he said. “The old guy might get pneumonia, or a heart attack.”
There was nothing infirm about Hudson on the Chase Field mound Wednesday night. He cut, sank and split his way through Arizona’s lineup and yielded just three hits, two to Gerardo Parra and one to Paul Goldschmidt. He counted a few more mistakes that got fouled back. But for the most part, Buster Posey could have set his glove on a tripod.
“He was pretty on point,” Posey said. “He did a good job attacking and getting ahead, and then putting hitters away when he did.”
It was the kind of stabilizing start the Giants needed after getting a total of nine innings from their rotation pillars, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, in the first two games here. It was a 103-pitch clinic and a show of stamina that would’ve been impressive for any pitcher in his first start of the season, let alone a veteran who hadn’t competed on a major league mound in eight months, and spent most of those wondering how his 38-year-old body would heal from a major injury.
“It’s been a long road he’s gone down,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “We talked about it a lot with Buster and that ankle. That’s a lot of work and it’s got to be rewarding for him to go out there and get a win.”
What a strange game it can be. The Braves did not extend Hudson a $14.1 million qualifying offer, or even propose to bring him back for anything close to the $9 million he made last season. So he took two and $23 million from the Giants and looked the picture of health Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Atlanta is beginning the season having lost two-fifths of its rotation – 20-something pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy – in the spring to Tommy John surgery.
The game can be taken from you at any time. Hudson, who has his own Tommy John scar, already understood that. He appreciates it all the more now.
I asked him: When you’ve got enough on your baseball odometer, do you still get nervous?
“You get anxious,” he said. “I don’t care how long you’ve been around or how much experience you have. You’re always anxious to compete, butterflies, whatever.
“I don’t like to say I’m nervous. I like saying anxious and ready to get out there.”
He was ready enough for the Diamondbacks, a fastball-loving team that has become his dissection frog. He is 8-1 with a 1.99 ERA in 12 starts against them.
“It was a fun night to be able to control the bottom of the strike zone,” Hudson said. “The guys made plays behind me. Buster called a good game. I was able to keep the pitch count down and throw strikes, and if you can do that you can go deep into games.”
And win them. Sergio Romo couldn’t believe his good fortune to save the victory that made Hudson the major leagues’ active leader.
“I got the chance to shake hands in the line and I patted him on the back and let him know, `Hey, unbelievable job,’” Romo said. “What a way to show up. He just did, in all reality, what we needed him to do.”
Said Angel Pagan, who hit an RBI single, made a diving, run-saving catch in the fourth and snuffed a rally with a dead-sprint snag in the eighth: “I’ve faced him many, many times and he’s such a tough competitor and a tough person. That’s the Tim Hudson we’ll see the whole year, hopefully.”
Said Posey: “The best way to describe him is that even now, after all the years he’s played, he loves playing baseball and he loves competing, and it’s fun to be around somebody like that.”
So in lieu of flowers, just watch the highlights. Hudson modestly turned away from a clubhouse TV when it switched from recapping the Dodgers game to the Giants. But he looked back when the announcers mentioned his sacrifice bunt.
Hudson scanned the faces around him and grinned.
“Would you look at the old man running to first!” he said.