While it wasn't a perfect game, it was the perfect setting for Hudson to provide such a masterpiece. From a personal standpoint, he'd lasted just three innings in two of his previous three stars. As for the Braves, they had suffered four consecutive losses and were looking for him to begin performing like the ace of their injury-riddled starting rotation.
In limiting the Reds to just three hits and recording a season-high 10 strikeouts, Hudson proved to be up to the challenge.
"I don't see how you can pitch any better," said Braves manager Bobby Cox after watching Hudson record the 10th double-digit strikeout total of his career.
Across the way, Reds manager Dusty Baker had a chance to see right-hander Edinson Volquez introduce himself to the Braves in impressive fashion. However, the two-run homer Volquez surrendered to McCann proved to be enough to lose this duel against Hudson, whose previous shutout came in Washington on Sept. 16.
"That's the best I've seen Hudson pitch since he was in Oakland," Baker said. "That's the Hudson I knew in Oakland. His ball was dipping and diving. He had perfect command. If you took a pitch, it was a strike. If you swung at it, it wasn't a very good pitch to hit. You can't take anything away from him. He was dealing tonight."
Hudson credited this successful evening to a changeup that has eluded him since he arrived in Atlanta before the start of the 2005 season. During his days with the A's, it was one of his most dependable pitches, and out of nowhere, it regained that status on Friday.
After not even testing the pitch in the bullpen, Hudson elected to throw a changeup instead of a split-finger fastball that McCann called in the first inning. The feel was immediately there, and so too were the results. His first-inning strikeouts of Corey Patterson and Ken Griffey Jr. came courtesy of the change.
"It had another gear," McCann said of the changeup Hudson hadn't even attempted to throw with regularity since Spring Training. "It was like he was pulling the string off of it. When he locates like that, nobody is going to beat him. His last start, he didn't have that location."
When Hudson surrendered four earned runs and threw just 60 pitches in three innings against the Mets on Sunday, there was reason to wonder. Just two starts earlier, he'd produced the same line and experienced a decline in velocity.
After not letting a baserunner reach second base until the eighth inning, Hudson showed that he's overcome the flu bug that wrecked his energy three weeks ago, and is seemingly as healthy as can be.
"The last few starts I had weren't exactly textbook for me," Hudson said. "So it was nice to come out here and give us a good chance to win, make some pitches and miss some bats. It was pretty nice."
Edwin Encarnacion was the only Reds player to advance as far as second base, and he only did so after Yunel Escobar barehanded his infield single in the grass and made an errant throw into the Braves' dugout. Encarnacion was left stranded at third base when first baseman Mark Teixeira ended the inning with a diving stop of a Joey Votto sharp grounder that might have ended up in the right-field corner.
While Hudson benefitted from some good defense, Volquez was victimized in the fourth inning when Patterson dropped Chipper Jones' long fly ball to center on the warning track. Two batters later, McCann, who had recorded just three hits in his previous 25 at-bats with runners in scoring position, belted his decisive 387-foot homer down the right-field line.
Still, after Jeff Francoeur grabbed the final out in right and McCann hugged Hudson in front of the mound, his celebratory mood had more to do with the shutout than the homer.
"For a catcher, there isn't a better feeling in the world," McCann said. "You don't get many of those -- a complete-game shutout like that."