KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Last fall, Tim Hudson hobbled around his hometown of Auburn, Ala., wearing a walking boot, wondering when and if he would pitch again, let alone with everything on the line in the postseason. Wednesday night, he will become the oldest man to start the seventh game of the World Series.
“You often wonder if you’re ever going to have that opportunity to do it,” Hudson said late Tuesday night, after the Kansas City Royals steamrolled his San Francisco Giants in Game 6. “Sixteen years in the big leagues, I finally have that chance. I mean, I’m really, really excited about it. I can’t wait.”
What, realistically, is his chance of success?
Hudson is 39 years, three months and 16 days old – just 15 days older than Roger Clemens was when he took the mound for the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Clemens, that night, was brilliant, lasting 6-1/3 innings, striking out 10, allowing Arizona just one run.
Hudson would take that line in the box score right this very second. It is not one he has produced easily over the past two months.
In July 2013, Hudson was pitching in the eighth inning against the New York Mets when he covered first on a groundball hit by Eric Young. He planted his right foot on the bag, and it collapsed, a broken ankle. Just past his 38th birthday, having never won a postseason series, it could have been over.
“It’s unbelievable how things happen,” Hudson said Tuesday. “… God works in crazy ways. I managed to get healthy and sign with the San Francisco Giants with, hopefully, the opportunity to play on this stage. Very rarely do things work out the way that you hope they will in this game. I signed with a team that I thought would have a pretty good chance to get here, and seven, eight months later, here we are.”
Through August, Hudson was excellent. He averaged more than 6-1/3 innings per outing, posting a 2.90 ERA, and the Giants won 17 of the 26 games he started. Given Matt Cain’s season-ending elbow injury and Tim Lincecum’s struggles, Hudson was essential.
September, though, was a well-documented disaster, and that’s what could be a factor tonight. With the Giants scratching to stay in the pennant race, Hudson took his regular turn in the rotation five times – twice pitching on four days’ rest, three times with five days off. The result: an 8.72 ERA, an astronomical .931 OPS against. He never reached the seventh inning.
So by any measure, his October has been better: three starts, a 3.72 ERA and a very respectable .628 OPS against. But at 39, the most important number for Hudson may have been the time off before those starts. Each time this postseason, he had at least nine days of rest – an eternity for a starting pitcher. He has thrown 208-2/3 innings this year, and Wednesday night, he will push past that number on just four days of rest since he allowed the Royals three runs in 5-2/3 innings in Game 3, a Kansas City victory.
“I feel really good about the game plan that we’re coming up with,” Hudson said. “I felt pretty good about the game plan in my first start against these guys. But like I said, I wasn’t quite as sharp as I wanted to be that first time out. Hopefully tomorrow it will be a little different.”
One thing to watch with any starting pitcher in the postseason, but perhaps particularly with Hudson in Game 7: The third time through the lineup, should he get there. FanGraphs and other analytical sites have long shown that there is a penalty when a pitcher faces players for the third time in a single outing; the numbers are such that almost any reliever is a better option than most starting pitchers after they are tiring and after hitters have seen their stuff.
Hudson, the first time through the order, in the regular season: .665 OPS against. Hudson, the second time through the order: .663 OPS against. Hudson, the third time through the order: .835 OPS against.
There are a lot of factors involved in that. Age must be one of them. Wednesday night, Tim Hudson will become the oldest pitcher to start the seventh game of the World Series. Given his years and his workload to this point, that could be a shaky proposition for the Giants.
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