ST. LOUIS -- It had been 53 innings since Dakota Hudson had given up a home run, his last being a grand slam to Bryce Harper on May 7.
Then Albert Pujols came back to town.
In the top of the seventh inning on Saturday afternoon, Pujols led off with a home run -- his first at Busch Stadium since he left the Cardinals for the Angels following the 2011 season.
The crowd gave Pujols a standing ovation and a curtain call, and Pujols stood at the top step of the visitors’ dugout to acknowledge the fans. Hudson stood on the mound and waited for the cheers to end before resuming play.
“He deserved every second he got,” Hudson said. “That’s a respect thing you have in the game. Whenever he gave me the nod [before Pujols’ first at-bat], it was, ‘Hey, let’s compete.’ I gave him the best I had, and he gave me the best he had. It was a lot of fun to be in that competition.”
Pujols’ home run was the only Angels run Hudson allowed on the day, and Hudson got plenty of cheers himself Saturday, helping the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory and series win over the Angels.
Hudson’s seven-inning, five-hit outing was his eighth straight quality start. The rookie right-hander even helped on offense, laying down a bunt in the fifth inning that led to a throwing error to third base by Angels pitcher Felix Pena, allowing two runners to score. Marcell Ozuna hit his second homer in as many days in the sixth to extend the Cardinals’ lead.
Hudson has put together a string of strong outings since that day in early May. In his last eight starts, he has a 2.33 ERA. That is in large part because of his effective sinker, which he threw 55 times on Saturday amid a season-high 112 pitches.
But more than his slider working well, Hudson and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt have both said that Hudson has gotten back to pitching like himself. That wasn’t the case at the beginning of the season, when Hudson was establishing himself in the rotation. He has lowered his ERA from 6.08 on April 15 to 3.36.
His improvement has come with experience and comfort on the field.
“You get jumpy at times -- there’s a lot that can come into it -- and it’s just being able to own your own mind,” Hudson said. “Negative things happen, and just trying to keep a positive outlook on everything and just know that I’m better than what I was doing early on. It’s building off of that in one true commitment.”
An example of Hudson’s ability to control the game the way he needs to came after Pujols’ home run. With no outs, Hudson gave up a fly ball, a groundout, a single and another groundout to end the frame.
The home run didn’t rattle him, and neither did the Cardinals crowd cheering for an opposing home run -- a unique situation, but one that happens when a beloved player returns to the city he played in for 11 years.
“You keep going at it,” Hudson said. “That’s all baseball is. It’s a professional game. There’s a lot of the best players in the world here. You’re eventually going to give up hits, you’re eventually going to give up runs. That doesn’t mean you have to shut it down, shut down what you’re doing.”