PITTSBURGH - Toiling in the midsummer heat wave that gripped the majority of the nation Thursday afternoon, Atlanta's Tim Hudson produced his best start since early June.
But his teammates weren't there to pick him up.
The Braves went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and Pittsburgh held on to beat Atlanta, 3-2, on a sweltering summer day at PNC Park.
"We had our chances and didn't get the big hit," manager Bobby Cox said. "It's simple as that, really."
As a result, Hudson, who went six innings and gave up three runs in only his second quality start since June 10, lost for the seventh time in two months. At 8-10, it's the first double-digit-loss season in Hudson's eight-year big-league career.
On top of that, the Braves missed a chance to sweep Pittsburgh to climb a touch higher in the wild card standings entering a big weekend series in Cincinnati.
"It's going to be key," said center fielder Andruw Jones, who had a pair of RBI doubles Thursday. "I think they're part of the wild card."
Timely hits helped the Braves win the first two games against the Pirates. But the team's opportunistic offense took the day off Thursday.
With runners on second and third in the second with one out, Willy Aybar popped to short and Marcus Giles struck out against Shawn Chacon, who went five innings in the heat and earned a win in his Pittsburgh debut. Chacon had a 7.00 ERA in 17 games with the Yankees this year.
In the fourth, Cox called for a successful double steal with Scott Thorman and Ryan Langerhans to put runners on second and third with one out. At that point, Hudson was ahead 3-0 in the count, but he struck out. Aybar then flied to center to end another threat.
In the eighth, with one run in and Jones on second base, Damaso Marte struck out Brian McCann and Salomon Torres got Jeff Francoeur to pop out.
Mike Gonzalez breezed through the bottom of the order in the ninth for his 19th save.
Hudson said he'll take the quality start as a sign of forward progress, albeit something small.
"You've got to crawl before you walk, right?" he said. "We had a chance to win. That's all I was really shooting for. Maybe they won't be so hard in the near future."
Reach R. Travis Haney at email@example.com.
Number of games Atlanta trails the New York Mets: 14
Number of games Atlanta trails Cincinnati: 5