This is my Thursday column on Tim Hudson and the Giants. WARNING: This is a baseball column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.
SAN FRANCISCO – Before the first big game of the Giants’ season – a 7-1 win against the Nationals – someone played “Downtown” by Frank Sinatra over the clubhouse speakers.
Tim Lincecum knew the words. He sang them under his breath and bopped his head left and right as he played poker on his phone. Every time Sinatra sang “DOWN-town,” Lincecum lowered his phone, closed his eyes, pointed to the ceiling and belted “DOWN-town” along with Sinatra and the rest of the Giants.
When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go DOWN-town
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know – DOWN-town
Like Sinatra was singing directly to the Giants, consoling them after they lost the first-three games of this series. The Giants were on the verge of getting swept at home in a four-game series for the first time since they moved into their beautiful downtown ballpark. And the Giants were singing.
It was Tim Hudson’s day to pitch. Maybe that’s why the Giants were in such a good mood.
Hudson doesn’t lose at home. It’s one of those natural laws, like gravity. The 38-year-old hasn’t lost a home start since 2012 when he was on the Braves.
It’s tough to overstate how good Hudson has been for the Giants. He’s got the lowest ERA in baseball this season – 1.81 – and he’s the first Giants pitcher to post an ERA lower than 2.00 after his first 13 starts since the club moved to San Francisco in 1958. Lincecum never did that. Matt Cain never did that. Juan Marichal never did that.
The Giants are on pace to win 104 games this season. They won 92 in 2010 and 94 in 2012, the two seasons the Giants won the World Series. What makes this Giants team different than the two World Series champion Giants teams?
He’s the difference. His 2.6 WAR (wins above a replacement-level player) leads the Giants. Angel Pagan is second on the team with a 2.1 WAR. Hudson not only is the best pitcher on the starting staff – he’s the best player on the team, the Giants’ MVP. If the Giants make it to their third World Series in five seasons, it will be Hudson who takes them there.
Watching Hudson in the clubhouse Thursday morning, you’d never know he was about to pitch in a big game. He sat in front of his locker in a leather office chair, fully reclined, headphones resting on his bald head. He ate a banana. He tried on a couple of different mitts. He watched the Reds beat the Dodgers. He put his feet up on another chair and closed his eyes. Around 11 a.m., Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti walked into the clubhouse holding a baseball and a piece of paper with the game-plan printed on it. Hudson opened his eyes. Righetti handed him the ball and the piece of paper, patted him on the shoulder and left. Game time. Hudson started to get dressed.
In the bottom of the second, the Giants took a 2-0 lead. Michael Morse led off the inning with a single up the middle, Tyler Colvin knocked in Morse with a triple to deep right-center and Brandon Crawford knocked in Colvin with a groundball to the second baseman. Game over.
Hudson gave up six singles and zero extra-base hits. He gave up just one run in seven innings, and the run was unearned. In the top of the fourth, he gave up a two-out single to Adam LaRoche, who made it to second on a passed ball by Buster Posey. The next batter, Ryan Zimmerman, knocked in LaRoche on a line-drive single to right field. The only run the Nationals scored.
After the game, a reporter asked Hudson if he likes being the “stopper,” the guy who stops a losing streak. “I try to go out there and give us a good chance to win whether we have lost a few games in a row or we’ve won a few games in a row. I feel like I try to go out there and put forth the same effort every game regardless of where we’ve been as a team. Obviously when you’ve lost some in a row, you understand there is a little more urgency behind some of the games. Not only from my point of view. I think everybody comes to the field with a little different attitude and hunger to win a ballgame.”
Right. It’s not just Hudson. It’s the whole team. The Giants have pride. The Giants won two World Series. The Giants love a big stage.
DOWN-town, where all the lights are bright,
DOWN-town, waiting for you tonight,
DOWN-town, you’re going to be all right now.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.