Teams have had to shut the Braves out to beat them this year. On Friday night the Pirates nearly no-hit them.
Wandy Rodriguez quieted the potent Braves lineup with seven one-hit innings in a 6-0 victory and stole the limelight from Tim Hudson, who was gunning for his 200th career win.
The Braves (13-3) lost for the third time this year, all three by shutout.
The Braves didn’t get their second hit of the game until Andrelton Simmons lead off the ninth inning with an infield single. He was erased the same way Jason Heyward was five innings earlier, on a double play, as the Braves faced the minimum.
To add insult to the Braves’ fruitless evening, B.J. Upton got thrown out in the seventh inning arguing a third-strike call with home plate umpire Sam Holbrook – he of the infamous infield fly rule call.
Upton wasn’t around for the controversial call in the Braves’ wild card loss to St. Louis last October, but he got his money’s worth on their behalf. Upton was upset over what he thought was a low pitch, but he was walking away when he saw Holbrook make a hand motion as if to shoo him back to the dugout. That’s when he went face-to-face with Holbrook and drew the ejection.
“He thought it was a strike,” Upton said afterward. “I can live with that. But the shooing away part? No, I’m a grown man. You just don’t do that.”
The show of frustration spoke to how Rodriguez had been making the Braves feel all night. The veteran left-hander allowed only a single to Heyward with one out in the fourth inning and struck out five batters.
Rodriguez set the tone by throwing 21 of his first 31 pitches for strikes in the first three innings. After Heyward singled past second baseman Neil Walker in the fourth, Rodriguez coaxed a double play from Justin Upton on the next pitch he threw.
Rodriguez is now 4-3 with a 3.08 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) against the Braves - all but Friday night coming with the Astros.
“I’ve never seen him not pitch well,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It seemed like when he was with Houston, he always gave us some fits. He’s a guy that’s a left-hander, cranks up 91, 92 mph, has a good curveball, knows how to pitch and you never get a good pass at him.”
Hudson, meanwhile, struggled to keep his sinker down and paid for it with a season-high six runs on nine hits in four innings. He will have to wait until Wednesday in Colorado for another shot at No. 200.
Hudson had outpitched Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzja, and Stephen Strasburg while winning two of his first three starts this season but took his first loss to a dominating Rodriguez.
“They had a guy on the mound that was giving us fits so I had to be pretty damn good tonight to win and I wasn’t,” Hudson said.
He struggled from the getgo, needing a gracious call at first base and a great diving stab by Chris Johnson at third base to escape the first inning. He wasn’t as fortunate in the second inning when the Pirates belted four extra-base hits in a six-batter span.
Pedro Alvarez took him out of the stadium over the right field stands for a two-run homer. And Jose Tabata doubled in another run on the second ball off the top of the right field wall in the inning.
The Pirates loaded the bases on Hudson to finish his night in the fifth, after he walked two of the first three batters he faced. Anthony Varvaro retired the first two hitters he faced in relief but let one of Hudson’s runners score – only the third of 19 inherited runners by the Braves bullpen this season – on a wild pitch.
Hudson was charged with more runs in four innings Friday (six) than he had in 18 innings over his first three starts combined (five).
“My good pitches were few and far between,” Hudson said. “And when I did make them, they seemed to still hit them.”