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Hudson shuts down Astros, helps Braves end skid

HOUSTON (AP) -- Tim Hudson gave the Atlanta Braves a pitching
performance they desperately needed.

Hudson allowed three hits and took a shut out into the eighth
inning to help the Braves snap a three-game losing streak with a
4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday.

"It all starts with us, it starts with starting pitching,"
said Hudson, who struck out five. "If we go out there and set the
tone, it's going to make everyone else's job a little easier."

Edgar Renteria hit a three-run homer and Chipper Jones added an
RBI double as the Braves won for just the third time in 13 games.

"It's a small step in the right direction," said Hudson. "But
today's no good without a 'W' tomorrow. We've got to play better,
we've got to get guys going with more confidence."

In Hudson's only other start at Minute Maid Park, in April 2005,
he faced Roger Clemens and gave up only four hits with nine
strikeouts in nine scoreless innings. Ryan Langerhans homered in
the 12th to give Atlanta a 1-0 win.

This one wasn't quite as dramatic, but Hudson (6-4) was almost
as good, though he did not have to face Houston sluggers Lance
Berkman and Morgan Ensberg or hits leader Craig Biggio. Berkman
skipped the game to see his wife give birth to their third
daughter, Morgan Ensberg sat out with a bruised right shoulder and
Biggio got the day off.

The Astros' patchwork lineup hardly touched Hudson for seven
innings, getting only one baserunner as far as second until Orlando
Palmeiro's RBI triple in the eighth.

Houston manager Phil Garner defended the roster moves.

"You want your best guys in, obviously, but those guys are
pretty good, too," he said. "I felt pretty good about the lineup,
actually."

Hudson struck out five before Ken Ray relieved him and pitched a
scoreless ninth to earn his fourth save.

If only the Braves would get that kind of pitching more often.
Atlanta's starters are now only 17-26 this season. And despite a
13-7 mark, the bullpen has given up 102 runs, second-worst in the
NL to Milwaukee.

Manager Bobby Cox hopes Hudson's effort rubs off on the rest of
the staff.

"Yeah, it can be contagious," Cox said. "We're just a little
inconsistent on everything right now."

Houston's pitchers had amassed a 1.32 ERA in their last four
starts, all wins, but rookie starter Taylor Buchholz (3-6) found
trouble immediately on Saturday.

Wilson Betemit doubled to right-center on the game's first
pitch, then scored on Jones' one-out double down the left-field
line.

Hudson then opened the third with a single to center and Betemit
followed with a double to deep center, drawing Astros pitching
coach Jim Hickey out for a mound visit.

After Hickey returned to the dugout, Renteria hit a 3-0 pitch
into the Astros' bullpen in right-center.

"I was trying to throw a strike," Buchholz said, "but you
can't just lay one in there, either."

Buchholz sharpened after the bad inning, retiring the next 12
Braves he faced with four strikeouts.

"Certainly, he got into trouble early," Garner said, "but he
gave us the opportunity to win."

Hudson already had more runs than he needed. He allowed only
Mike Lamb's single in the first, two walks in the second and a walk
in the fifth before Jason Lane walked with two outs in the seventh.
Hudson then struck out Brad Ausmus swinging, showing no signs of
fatigue after 91 pitches.

Buchholz gave up a leadoff single to Betemit in the eighth, then
got Renteria to ground into a double play, Houston's second of the
game and 75th of the season. Buchholz struck out Jones with a
94-mph fastball, his career-high eighth strikeout of the game.

Willy Taveras pinch-hit for Buchholz in the eighth and singled
to center, ruining Hudson's bid for a third career one-hitter.
Palmeiro then ripped a line drive to right-center and Taveras
sprinted home, ending Hudson's quest for a 10th career shutout.

Lamb followed with a ground out that scored Palmeiro and cut
Atlanta's lead to 4-2. Hudson then struck out Chris Burke before
giving way to Ray.

"As in control as this game felt, it was a nail-biter at the
end," Hudson said. "That's kind of how it goes when things aren't
really clicking on all cylinders."

Game notes
Hudson improved to 90-6 when he gets run support of four
runs or more. He's now 88-14 when he pitches beyond the seventh
inning, doing it for the 131st time in 226 career starts. ... The
Astros were aiming for their first five-game winning streak since
last September. ... Chipper Jones was playing in his 1,700th game.
He ranks third among active players in games played with one team,
trailing New York's Bernie Williams (1,998) and Biggio (2,624).