Not that anyone's forgotten Chipper, but... Brooks Conrad is awesome.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Tim Hudson just keeps making hitters look silly. He followed up his best start of the season with, well, exactly the same start:
That is just uncanny. The only slight differences are that Hudson did not get quite as many ground balls tonight (though 14/20 is still awesome) and that tonight's game was closer, so his WPA was much higher (a stunning 0.533, meaning he accounted for more than half of a win all by himself).
Those numbers are even more impressive when you realize that the one walk was to Hudson's first batter. So he gave up only three baserunners in eight innings after that, one of whom was erased in a double play. Oh, and all the hits were singles. That'll do.
For the first six innings, Hiroki Kuroda matched Hudson zero for zero. In those six innings, he gave up only three hits, but all of them were to a leadoff batter. He also walked the leadoff man in another inning. That meant that the Braves had tons of chances to hit with men on base. Unfortunately, they couldn't seem to break through.
Omar Infante led off the first inning with an auto-single but was stranded on first. Troy Glaus led off the second with a double (which was scorched), but never made it past third. A faster runner might have scored on a pitch that got away from Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus, but poor Troy is just too slow now to score on a garden-variety wild pitch. Alex Gonzalez walked to lead off the fourth, but he was stranded on second. And Rick Ankiel singled to lead off the fifth, breaking an 0-for-14 skid, but he too was stranded at second.
It was a frustrating night, but then the seventh inning came along, and Mr. LICH (Late Inning Clutch Homer) himself came to the plate. You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure--and it's not (Dontrelle) Willis. It's Brooks Conrad, who smacked a ball just over the center field wall to give the Braves the only run they would need all night.
Kuroda ended with a great line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 BB (1 IBB), 3 K, 0.155 WPA. Most nights, that'd be enough, but as we've learned lately in Tommy Hanson's last few starts, you can't win if your team doesn't score for you.
Billy Wagner came on and worked the ninth for the Braves. He gave up a leadoff hit to Scott Podsednik, but one out later, Podsednik broke for second too soon. Wagner was ready, and he threw to Glaus, who threw to Gonzalez for the out. By that point, the batter (Andre Ethier) was already in a two-strike count. Wagner only needed one more pitch to end the game, striking Ethier out on a wicked slider on the inner half. Cue the mass euphoria at Turner Field.
All in all, it was a marvelous start to an important series. To make things even better, the Phillies were shut down today by R.A. Dickey, so the Braves' division lead is now at 3 games. Hopefully, all the other games in this series go just as well.
Tim Hudson-- He's now allowed 1 or fewer runs in each of his last 5 starts.
Brooks Conrad-- 1/3, HR, R, RBI, 0.157 WPA; all 7 of his homers have come in the 6th inning or later
Ryan Theriot-- 0/4, -0.180 WPA
Andre Ethier-- 0/4, K, -0.122 WPA
MVP in a Losing Effort
Hiroki Kuroda-- The very definition of a "tough-luck loss."
Stat of the Game
By my count, the teams combined to go 0-for-22 with runners on base (with a sac bunt), and the only walk drawn in that situation was an intentional one. Great pitching? Definitely. Poor hitting? Probably that, too.
Conrad's homer (0.240 WPA)
Podsednik getting caught stealing in the ninth (-0.127 WPA)