Jones' walk-off lifts Braves

Jones' walk-off lifts Braves

ATLANTA -- When Andruw Jones came to plate in the ninth inning at Turner Field on Monday night, he knew the two late-inning losses his team had suffered over the course of the previous four days paled in comparison to the two true losses Tim Hudson had suffered on Sunday.

In addition, Jones knew that with one mighty swing he could ensure that the determined effort a heavy-hearted Hudson had just provided would be preserved in a manner that would have made both Vera Mickle and Josh Hancock proud.

One day after learning that both Mickle, his grandmother, and Hancock, his former collegiate teammate at Auburn University, had passed away, Hudson found himself fighting back tears of emotion and celebrating a dramatic victory.

"Obviously, tragedy is tough to deal with, no matter what you do," Hudson said. "But you still have to go out there and handle your business."

Fortunately for Hudson, he wasn't the only one handling his business on Monday night. After completing eight strong innings, he found himself able to rejoice after Jones hit a three-run walk-off homer off Antonio Alfonseca. The blast into the left-field seats gave the Braves a 5-2 win over the Phillies and sole possession of first place in the National League East.

"We wanted Huddy to win the game," said Jones, who now has six career walk-off homers. "But he kept us in the game and we came through in the end."

From the outset, it was apparent from both a mental and physical standpoint that this was a special night for Hudson. On his left shoulder, Hudson wore the letters "JH" to honor Hancock, the Cardinals pitcher who was killed in an early Sunday morning auto accident.

Behind the pitching rubber and on Hudson's spikes were the letters "VM" to honor the grandmother, whose funeral he will attend in Columbus, Ga., on Tuesday. And with an eight-inning effort in which he allowed two earned runs and four hits, Hudson showed an added sense of determination that only enhanced the remarkable April that he enjoyed on the mound.

"There was a lot of motivation for me to go out there and pitch well," said Hudson, who has a 1.40 ERA after his first six starts. "Any time you go out there and pitch with a heavy heart, if you give it up, it's easy to use that as an excuse. That's something I didn't want to have happen. I just wanted to go out there and give us a chance to win."

Last Wednesday, Hudson carried a six-hit shutout into the ninth inning of a game the Marlins would win. That demoralizing loss might have only been trumped by Sunday's, during which Bob Wickman wasted a two-run ninth-inning lead against the Rockies.

"We deserved that one after enduring our last couple of losses," said Chipper Jones, whose sixth-inning leadoff homer accounted for the only earned run allowed by Phillies starter Jon Lieber. "They were bitter pills to swallow. The baseball gods owed us a walk-off here at home."

The Braves have won each of the four games they've played against the Phillies this year, and three of those victories have been decided in the ninth inning of later. Their bullpen has posted a 2.76 ERA in these four games while the Philadelphia 'pen has posted a 4.91 mark.

"The games could have gone either way," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who saw Mike Gonzalez complete a perfect ninth to earn Monday's victory. "Lady luck I guess has leaned our way."

After walking Chipper Jones to give the Braves runners at first and second base in the ninth, Alfonseca had reason to feel confident against Andruw Jones, who had just one hit in 11 previous at-bats against him. But at the same time, the Braves center fielder has been hot lately, hitting .400 (14-for-35) over the course of the past 10 games.

"I'm just trying to get my swing going right now," said Jones, whose game winner came on a 1-1 slider from Alfonseca. "I'm working on balance. It's working right now."

While Jones has had to battle raise his batting average from .170 to .261 over the course of the past 10 games, the entirety of the season's first month was a success for Hudson, who like in his April 4 start against them, held the Phillies hitless through the first four innings.

A pair of one-out singles led to two runs in the sixth for the Phillies. But from there, Hudson retired the final seven batters he faced. Unfortunately, he was left with a tough no-decision.

But the tougher decision, one that never crossed his mind, would have been to have opted not to take advantage of the opportunity to honor two people who were obviously near and dear to him.

Multiple times throughout the postgame interview session, it seemed like Hudson was going to shed a tear. But as he'd just done on the mound, he held strong and let his actions speak for themselves.

"It's something that is never really out of your mind, no matter what you do," Hudson said. "But you've got to go out there do your job and hope they're out there helping you out."

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