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Hudson pitches six sharp innings in return

NEW YORK (AP) -- Tim Hudson took the field for the sixth inning,
knowing it would be his last.

Sure he had only thrown 45 pitches through five, but after two
trips around the bases on a humid night in his first start in over
a month, that was enough to wipe out the right-hander.

"I was gassed," Hudson said after pitching five-hit ball
Saturday night in a 3-0 victory over the New York Mets.

Kelly Johnson snapped out of an 0-for-14 slump with two hits and
two RBI for Atlanta, which has won two straight following a
three-game losing streak.

Hudson was on the mound for the first time since June 13, when
he was forced out after 2 2/3 innings by a strained muscle in his
left side -- caused by a flaw in his delivery. After two simulated
games, that were also scoreless outings, Hudson was ready to do it
for real.

Braves manager Bobby Cox thought it was one of Hudson's best
outings of the year. The pitcher wasn't so sure.

"I wasn't quite as sharp as I would like to be," he said.
"But I couldn't ask for anything more coming off a four-week
little vacation here."

Hudson scored from second to give the Braves the lead in the
third, then was forced out at the plate two innings later after
leading off with a double.

After getting the first two hitters in the sixth, Hudson gave up
back-to-back singles to Carlos Beltran and Cliff Floyd. Cox came
out to see if Hudson had enough to get David Wright, who already
had three homers in the series.

He did, getting Wright to bounce into a force out.

"I knew I was getting close to running on empty but I felt like
I had enough to get out of that inning," Hudson said.

Hudson (7-5) showed little signs of rust, in the 198th start of
his career. He got through six innings on just 62 pitches and
earned his 99th victory.

His .692 winning percentage (99-44) is third among pitchers with
100 decisions and second only to New York's Pedro Martinez among
active hurlers.

With his former pitching coach, Rick Peterson, watching from the
Mets dugout, Hudson struck out one and didn't issue a walk. He is
2-0 against New York this season and hasn't allowed a run in 14
innings.

It was as if he was trying to keep up with his former teammates
on the Oakland Athletics, the club that dealt him to Atlanta during
the offseason. Rich Harden and Barry Zito carried no-hitters into
the eighth inning on Thursday and Friday.

"They are my buddies and I'm proud of them with what they've
been able to do," Hudson said. "But I've just got to do what I
do. I've been on the shelf for a month and need to get back to
pitching and feel like I'm a part of the team."

Hudson ran into trouble a few times, but was helped out by fine
defense. Twice after singles by Doug Mientkiewicz, Hudson induced
catcher Ramon Castro to hit into double plays.

Atlanta has taken two of three from the last-place Mets and
improved to 9-3 against them this season. The four-game series
concludes Sunday when Mike Hampton will come off the disabled list
to face Martinez.

"We need a win tomorrow," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.

Jim Brower and Dan Kolb pitched two innings of scoreless relief
for the Braves, paving the way for Chris Reitsma, who worked the
ninth for his ninth save in 13 chances.

The third inning was the toughest for Hudson, who earned his
first victory since May 29 -- a span of four starts.

Miguel Cairo led off with a double and was sacrificed to third
by Mets starter Victor Zambrano. Jose Reyes then grounded to first
baseman Adam LaRoche, who threw home to nail Cairo despite playing
back in the infield. Wilson Betemit then made a nifty backhand play
on Mike Cameron's grounder to end the inning.

In the fourth, Andruw Jones drew a leadoff walk and came around
on Ryan Langerhans' double that split the gap in left-center.

Zambrano (4-8) allowed fewer than three earned runs for the 16th
time in 17 starts but he is 0-2 in his last three starts.

"He's pitched well, but you've got to score runs. That's the
bottom line," Randolph said.

Zambrano retired the side in order only twice in seven innings
but worked around trouble and scattered six hits, striking out six
and walking four.

In his last nine starts, he is 2-4 with an ERA of 2.36.

"Every game for me is very important," Zambrano said. "I
always go back there to give the opportunity to the team to win the
game."

The Braves added a run in the ninth off Danny Graves, who helped
the inning along when he threw away Rafael Furcal's bunt for New
York's third error. Johnson then singled in Pete Orr to make it
3-0.

Game notes
Furcal, who leads the NL with 29 stolen bases, was caught
trying to swipe second by Mets catcher Ramon Castro after drawing a
walk to start the game. It was the fifth time he was thrown out.
... Mets C Mike Piazza got the day off and is expected to start
Sunday. ... Mientkiewicz was activated from the DL before the game.