Braves inch closer to playoff berth on Hudson's gem

Braves inch closer to playoff berth on Hudson's gem

Braves inch closer to playoff berth on Hudson's gem
PHILADELPHIA -- Tim Hudson has been frustrated by some of the inconsistencies that have plagued him over the past few months. But with the playoffs quickly approaching, the veteran pitcher is hoping to spend the next few weeks pitching like the ace he has proven to be for so long.

Hudson took a step in the right direction Sunday afternoon, producing one of his best starts this month and helping the Braves move closer to clinching a postseason berth courtesy of a 2-1 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

"Huddy is that guy when the lights are shining the brightest, he brings his 'A' game," Braves catcher David Ross said. "I like my chances of him on the mound against anybody at any time. I know he's going to go out and give me everything he has that day and fight tooth and nail to try to get a win."

Ross' second-inning home run and Dan Uggla's third-inning sacrifice fly off Cliff Lee proved to be enough for Hudson, who limited the Phillies to an unearned run and two hits over 7 1/3 innings. John Mayberry Jr.'s leadoff single in the third inning and Kevin Frandsen's two-out single in the fifth were the only hits surrendered by Hudson, who had allowed at least four runs in three of his previous four starts this month. That included a Sept. 1 outing in which he surrendered five runs in just five innings vs. the Phillies.

"I had a couple bullpens this time through and really worked on some things," Hudson said. "I am just trying to get my pitches a little more crisp and my arm slots where I want them to be. Today was a great step in that direction. I felt really good about where I was pretty much all day."

The Braves' magic number to clinch a playoff spot has been reduced to two with nine games remaining. They own a comfortable lead in the National League Wild Card race and also still have a slim chance to win the NL East. Atlanta is 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Nationals.

"We've still got some games left and we're looking to make this thing as interesting as we can," Uggla said.

Meanwhile, with losses in the final two games of this series, the Phillies essentially bid adieu to their hopes of securing the NL's second Wild Card spot. They are now five games behind the second-place Cardinals.

In a way, this was fitting retribution for the Braves, who won 12 of the 18 games in this season series. The epic late-season collapse they endured last year concluded with the Phillies ending the regular season with a three-game sweep in Atlanta.

"It's never anything personal, but they're kind of in the way of where we're trying to get," Uggla said. "It's nice to come up here and take two out of three. Whether or not they make the playoffs, we're not focused on trying to keep them out. We're just focused on trying to go in the right direction."

While Hudson righted himself, Lee extended the miseries of his tough-luck season by allowing two runs -- one earned -- on nine hits over eight innings. The veteran left-hander recorded 11 strikeouts and did not issue a walk.

Ross gave Hudson a lead when he drilled a one-out solo homer over the center-field wall in the second inning. The Braves added to that advantage during a fortune-filled third inning.

Reed Johnson opened the frame with a soft bouncer that found its way through the middle of the infield. Martin Prado followed with a bloop single to shallow right field. Lee found himself facing a bases-loaded situation moments later when he bobbled Jason Heyward's dribbler in front of the plate. This set the stage for Uggla to connect on his decisive sacrifice fly to center field.

"It's really big for us," Hudson said. "Today was a huge win. It capped off a really good road trip for us. These guys are still fighting to get in the playoffs. We beat a great pitcher today. It was a well-pitched game from both sides."

Hudson had only himself to blame for the one unearned run that he allowed in the sixth inning. He issued a leadoff walk to Jimmy Rollins before making an errant pickoff throw that allowed Rollins to advance to second base. After Juan Pierre's sacrifice bunt, Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly to right field.

Utley's sacrifice fly proved to be the only damage Hudson incurred on a day that he hopes serves as a sign that he is heading in the right direction at the right time.

"I had a pretty good two-seamer going that I was locating pretty well, especially off the opposite-arm side," Hudson said. "I was able to stay on the pitch and have good action on it. It was a fun day for me. It's a time of the year when you want to clean up your delivery and start making better pitches."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.