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Braves recover from Giants' late rally

Braves rebound from Giants rally

SAN FRANCISCO -- If Tim Hudson ever provides this sort of dominant performance again this year, Braves manager Bobby Cox might want to use somebody other than Bob Wickman to serve as his closer for the evening. Far too many times, his entry into a game previously dominated by Hudson has proven to be a recipe for disaster.

Long after Wickman was unable to quell the ninth-inning trouble Hudson had created at AT&T Park on Tuesday night, Cox sat in his office smoking a victory cigar and fighting the mental drain caused by an evening that proved much harder and longer than it should've been.

"You don't want to blow another one like that," said a less-than enthusiastic Cox after the Braves pulled out a 7-5, 13-inning win over the Giants. "We've done that too many times."

Had Edgar Renteria not provided yet another clutch hit with his decisive two-out, two-run double off Jonathan Sanchez in the top of the 13th, Cox would have simply been fighting mad. Over the course of the previous six days, his team had suffered two extra-inning losses that were a product of blown save opportunities.

Before notching this second straight win over the Giants, Cox stared at the possibility of Wickman sharing company in the evening's blown-save department. But after allowing the Giants to score a run that was aided by first baseman Chris Woodward's throwing error, Tyler Yates recorded the evening's final two outs with the bases loaded.

"We won the game," said Hudson, who was bidding to win a fifth straight decision for the first time since 2003. "That's all that matters. Obviously, we would've liked to have done it in regulation. But that's why you play 27 outs. You've got to bear down for every out. They saw an opening, took advantage of it and tied it up."

Through the first eight innings, there were only miniscule openings for the Giants. As Hudson entered the ninth in search of his 10th career shutout, they'd managed just four singles and seen just one of their 24 outs recorded by a Braves outfielder. Everything started to change when the Braves right-hander issued two consecutive walks to begin the ninth.

Those two walks set the stage for Barry Bonds, whose 43rd birthday wasn't celebrated with another step toward Hank Aaron's career homer record. As he'd done in his previous three encounters against Bonds earlier in the night, Hudson was aggressive and consequently induced a harmless pop fly caught by third baseman Chipper Jones.

One out later, Rich Aurilia served a two-strike pitch just past Renteria to account for the Giants' first run of the night and prompted the entry of Wickman, who had surrendered just one hit in the five scoreless innings he'd completed since the All-Star break. His trouble started with a Pedro Feliz two-out, two-run double that fell between a diving Willie Harris and Andruw Jones. It concluded when Bengie Molina tied the game with an RBI single through the left side of the infield

"I thought I had a chance at it," said Harris, admitting he had a chance to end the game by catching Feliz's double. "But at the last second, I glanced up at him and that's where it went wrong."

Wickman has now blown five of 22 save opportunities this year. Three of those blown saves of come in games that Hudson started and the Braves opponent entered the ninth without having scored a run.

"I feel terrible that I've blown it twice for Timmy [when entering with guys on base] right now and three times [total] this year that I've blown a save for him," Wickman said.

The fact that Hudson was charged with three earned runs and six hits in 8 2/3 innings wasn't indicative of the dominance he showed most of the evening. Cox still couldn't believe that Aurilia managed to get his bat on the sinker that opened the ninth-inning flood gates.

"It was a typical Huddy game," Cox said. "He pitched his [tail] off, and then we blow it. He can't pitch any better than that. He just was unreal."

The Braves' offensive star of the evening was Chipper Jones, who began his three-hit night by sparking a three-run fourth with a leadoff double and ended it with a 13th-inning RBI single. In between, the veteran third baseman, whose National League-best .347 batting average has been aided by the fact that he's hit .401 since coming off the disabled list on June 13, drilled a fifth-inning solo homer off Matt Morris.

With an early lead, Hudson was given the ability to aggressively attack Bonds, whose only hit in five at-bats was his two-out, fourth-inning single off the right-field wall. He struck out looking in the seventh inning and again to end the 10th against Oscar Villarreal. His final chance to appease the home crowd that was anticipating history came in the 13th, when he drew a one-out walk off Wil Ledezma and eventually scored.

Bonds, who has been limited to two singles and one walk in eight at-bats during the first two games of this series, remains two homers shy of breaking Aaron's all-time record of 755.

"I felt as good as I have all year," Hudson said. "I pitched Barry as tough and as good as I could have probably pitched to him. He did get a base hit off me. But any time you limit him to singles or walks, you're doing a pretty good job."

As Cox would reiterate countless times via wearisome words, Hudson was better than good.

"Huddy is snake-bitten," Cox said. "It's unbelievable."

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

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