SAN FRANCISCO -- Across the bay, Detroit's Max Scherzer and Oakland's Sonny Gray were matched in a confrontation of aces. But Tuesday night's true mound magician performed his artistry in this city, at AT&T Park, against the Chicago Cubs.
Returning to full-time duty after an injury and the weather disrupted his routine, Tim Hudson displayed his peak precision through seven innings to lead the Giants to a 4-0 triumph.
While Scherzer and Gray combined to allow nine runs, Hudson limited Chicago to six hits. He refrained from issuing a walk for the sixth time this season. The Cubs twice moved runners as far as second base, but Hudson held them hitless in four at-bats in those situations.
Somewhat remarkably, Hudson hadn't appeared in a legitimate game since he worked six innings and earned the decision in a 7-4 victory at Los Angeles on May 11. He missed his following start with a left hip injury and was coming off a truncated three-inning outing last Wednesday in a rain-suspended game at Colorado.
But he proved sharp enough to end the Cubs' four-game AT&T Park winning streak.
"My timing was a little bit off at times, but I got away with some pitches that they could have done a little bit of damage with," Hudson said. "Guys made some good plays behind me, like they always do."
The prime example of this occurred in the fifth inning, after Chicago's Mike Olt doubled off the left-center-field wall. First, center fielder Angel Pagan played the carom on Olt's hit perfectly. Then third baseman Pablo Sandoval leaned to his left to stop Jake Arrieta's one-hop smash and turn a potential RBI single into an out.
Sandoval has learned that he's bound to receive extra activity when Hudson's sinking fastball is effective.
"I'm more specific with him," Sandoval said. "I come in here early to work, stretch and get ready for him."
Hudson has quickly made himself at home in AT&T Park, where the Giants are undefeated in his five starts. He's personally 4-0. It's a little early for this kind of talk, but the most prolific starting pitcher to post an unbeaten record at the bayside yard was Noah Lowry, who went 5-0 in 2004. Reliever Felix Rodriguez was 6-0 at home in 2003. The numbers become loftier in the Candlestick Park era, which included Billy Pierce's 12-0 record in 1962.
Hudson reiterated that he considered ballpark effects while shopping for a new team in free agency last offseason. Obviously, AT&T Park met his standards.
"Great pitcher's park, great weather, all positives and no negatives as a pitcher," he said. "You can challenge guys. That brings confidence to attack the strike zone."
As a result, Hudson has fashioned a 1.92 ERA. He has lasted at least seven innings in eight of his 10 starts and has yielded two earned runs or fewer in nine of 10 performances. "He's always good," Arrieta said of Hudson. "He's been doing it for 12 or 13, maybe 14 years now, and you know what you're going to get. That's why he's still pitching at such a high level. He's a buzz saw."
The last Giants pitcher to record a sub-2.00 ERA through his first 10 starts of the season was left-hander Dave LaPoint in 1985, who had a 1.88 ERA at the same juncture. But those were the 100-loss Giants, who couldn't score for LaPoint or any other starter. His 10-start record was 2-4.
The Giants mustered enough offense to spare Hudson a LaPointian experience. Bereft of the surprising power that has sustained them for much of this season, the Giants relied on their other 2014 asset by scoring twice with two outs off Arrieta.
Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, "These things are what win games for you. It's hard to measure that, but there's no question that the difference, I think, between an average year and a good year is two-out, clutch hits."
The Giants struck in the first inning with a dead-ball era sequence. Pagan singled, dashed to third base on Hunter Pence's hit-and-run single and scored on Buster Posey's sacrifice fly. Pence subsequently stole second base and scored on Michael Morse's two-out single that grazed Arrieta's glove and skipped up the middle.
San Francisco added a pair of runs in the fifth with another modest, but effective offensive combination: a pair of infield singles, a bloop hit and a sacrifice fly. Ehire Adrianza and Pagan provided the hits with their speed before Pence walked to load the bases. Posey delivered another sacrifice fly to chase Adrianza across before Sandoval's two-out fly ball landed untouched in left-center field and sent home Pagan.
"I was talking to one of the guys and feel those were the four softest runs you'll see," Arrieta said. "They have a very professional, fundamentally sound ballclub that knows when and where to apply pressure. Their approach is very sound. They're a lot of tough outs. There's really no break in the lineup until you get to the nine spot. It was a tough game. They were able to nickel-and-dime us there."