What had been a splendid night for Tim Hudson and the Braves took an awful turn in the eighth inning Wednesday night, when the veteran pitcher broke his right ankle on a play at first base in a 8-2 win against the New York Mets.
Hudson was pitching a four-hit shutout when the gruesome injury occurred. Eric Young, trying to beat a throw to first base on a groundout, stepped on Hudson’s leg just above the ankle, rolling his ankle inward all the way to the ground.
Hudson held on to the ball for the out and hopped a couple of times before falling to the ground in agony. X-rays taken at Citi Field showed the fracture, and Hudson will have season-ending surgery in Atlanta once the swelling goes down.
“It’s terrible,” said second baseman Dan Uggla, who hit one of the Braves’ three home runs, but was in a solemn mood afterward, like the rest of his teammates. “That’s a big blow. Huddy is such a leader on the field and in the clubhouse, and in the dugout when he’s not pitching, so this is a tough one.”
Hudson, 38, was attended to by trainers and EMS works for about 10 minutes before being strapped on a backboard and placed on a motorized cart. He was driven off the field, the cart traveling directly in front of the visitor’s dugout on the third-base side, a few feet in front of concerned teammates standing on the top step.
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Catcher Brian McCann was asked about Hudson’s importance to the Braves.
“He’s huge,” McCann said. “I mean, he’s the veteran presence around here that people go to. It’s Tim Hudson. The guy’s got 200 wins, and best teammate you’re ever going to have. Everybody in here feels bad for him.”
There were two runners on base and one out when Young hit a grounder that bounced off the chest of first baseman Freddie Freeman, who retrieved it and tossed softly to Hudson, covering on the play.
Hudson had reached back a second time with his foot to make sure he made the tag, and his foot was more than halfway across the base when Young, already in the air on his final lunging last step to the base, stepped on Hudson’s leg above the ankle while running full speed.
“There was nowhere for EY to go, nothing he could do,” Braves manager Freddie Gonzalez said.
“I saw them get tangled up,” Uggla said. “I was just hoping he Charley-horsed him or something. I didn’t see the extent of it. Once I saw Huddy’s reaction, I was like, Oh, no. This isn’t good….
“He was kind of in disbelief, obviously in a lot of pain. You could see, just the thoughts going through his head, ‘This can’t be happening…. This is unbelievable.’ That sort of thing. I know he was in a lot of pain.”
Gonzalez and trainers ran to Hudson as he lay on the field just inside the first-base line.
“It’s a freak play, two guys going for the bag and EY just stepped on him,” Gonzalez said, “and Huddy had his foot on the bag. Freak play. You cover the bag thousands of times and that stuff never happens. But the reaction of the crowd when we were out there – I guess they showed the replay (on the video board) – wasn’t good. And talking to Timmy, you felt that it wasn’t good.”
Young appeared distraught as he stood near Hudson, fighting to hold back tears.
“I’m hustling down the line like I always do, going for the base,” Young said. “I saw his foot, as I’m going for the base, right there in the middle. As I came down, I knew I didn’t get any of the base. I know I got all of his foot. I pretty much knew it was probably broke right as I did it, and that’s why I sprinted right back to him and tried to console him as much as I could and apologize.”
Gonzalez said: “He kept telling Timmy, ‘I’m sorry, it wasn’t on purpose or anything.’ And Timmy was telling him, ‘No, I know, it’s just an accident.’”
Hudson (8-7) was replaced by Luis Avilan, who gave up a two-run double to the next batter, Daniel Murphy. Until the eighth inning, Hudson had allowed only two runners to reach second base and none to reach third.
He was charged with four hits, two runs and three walks with nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. But his pitching line and little else about the game seemed important after the injury to Hudson, whose wife, Kim, was at the game with their son, Kade.
“I didn’t see it,” Freeman said. “I flipped (the ball to Hudson) and spun. Once I turned around he was already on the ground. I didn’t see it, and I don’t want to see it. I heard the reaction from the crowd.
“It just sucks. That was one of the best games I’ve ever seen him pitch. To have that happen, it’s terrible.”
There was an audible groan from fans when a replay showed the grotesque injury on the stadium video board, and Hudson got an ovation as he was carted off the field.
“That’s all that was on my mind the rest of the game, was how he was doing,” McCann said. “You think about his family that was here in the stands, watching that. We won, but it’s a tough night.”
Hudson, who turned 38 this month, is in the option year of his contract and will be eligible for free agency after the season. The Alabama native and former Auburn standout has overcome major back surgery and Tommy John elbow surgery during his nine-year career with the Braves, and he’s their only starting pitcher with postseason experience, other than Kris Medlen’s start in last year’s Wild Card game.
The Braves could look to add a veteran starter before the July 31 trade deadline, or go with what they have. They’re one of the few teams with enough pitching depth to potentially cover such a loss without making a trade, althought it might be a bit risky to go to a postseason series without playoff-tested starters in the rotation.
Brandon Beachy, 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, pitched well again for Triple-A Gwinnett Wednesday night in what was probably going to be his last or next-to-last rehab start even before Hudson was injured.
Beachy could slip into Hudson’s rotation spot, or the Braves could keep rookie left-hander Alex Wood in the rotation after Paul Maholm returns from a DL stint for a sprained wrist. Wood is starting in Maholm’s place in Thursday’s series finale.
Until the injury, the first-place Braves were enjoying a rare night on the road when everything was clicking for them.
Evan Gattis, who was a junior college teammate of Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner for half of a season in 2006 at Seminole State College in Oklahoma, hit a mammoth homer against him in the second inning, the first of three off Hefner (4-8).
Andrelton Simmons and Uggla drove in all five runs in a fifth-inning outburst that chased Hefner and assured the Braves of a least a split of the four-game series. It was the 11th homer for Simmons and third in six games on the trip. He had only six all season in 2012 in the major and minor leagues.
Hudson won his third consecutive road start since a stretch in which he went 0-7 with a 6.40 ERA in eight road starts.
The Braves are 3-3 on their seven-game trip, and a win in Thursday’s finale against the Mets would give them their first winning record on a trip in nearly two months, since finishing 3-2 on the road against the Mets and Toronto May 24-28.
Gattis’ long homer to the second seating deck in left field was his first since June 10 and his ninth hit in a six-game hitting streak that began the day after he returned from a four-week stint on the disabled list for a strained oblique.
Uggla pushed the lead to 4-0 with his team-high 20th homer, a three-run shot with none out in the fifth. Three batters later, Simmons hit a two-run homer that gave him six in his past 21 games and three homers in six games on this trip.
“We were finally able to get some runs early, and Huddy did the rest,” Uggla said.
The six runs and three homers were two more of each than the Braves’ combined total in their previous three games against the White Sox and Mets. The run support amounted to overkill for Hudson, who improved to 142-3 (with 29 no-decisions) when given a lead of at least three runs.
But again, statistics seemed of little concern as the eldest Brave, the pitching staff’s veteran leader, was carted off the field.