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Bringing their A's game
ATLANTA -- Former partners in pranks as Oakland teammates, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder may feel as if the joke is on them when they face each other tonight.
Teammates in Oakland the last five years as two of the starring jokesters -- with Barry Zito -- in the Big Three pitching rotation, Hudson was traded to Atlanta and Mulder was sent to St. Louis after the 2004 season.
Tonight, in the opening game of the Braves-Cardinals series, Hudson and Mulder will meet for the first time as opposing pitchers.
Since they're now in the National League, they will also hit. They say that sets up the most intriguing -- and potentially hilarious -- part of the matchup.
The two talked on the phone Monday.
"We laughed about it and said how this figures," Mulder said. "Who's going to be able to keep a straight face? That might be the hardest part. I know I'm going to start laughing. What are you going to do?"
Hudson and Mulder were lead players in the frat-house atmosphere of the Athletics' clubhouse. The two were almost as well-known in Oakland for their kidding as for their winning.
Once Hudson and Mulder put white shoe polish around the perimeter of a sunflower seed bucket that former A's pitching coach Rick Peterson liked to use as a stool. Hudson and Mulder then laughed while Peterson walked around with a white ring on his gray uniform pants.
Oakland players also were known to race remote-controlled cars around the clubhouse.
It may be difficult for Hudson or Mulder to keep from laughing when looking down from the Turner Field mound at the other standing in the batter's box.
Hudson said he and Mulder talked about the possibility of facing each other even before they left Oakland.
"We were just joking about if we got traded," said a smiling Hudson. "I told him, just laughing, whatever you throw at me, I'm going to throw at you. If he starts breaking out his nasty stuff early, I'm going to have to do the same."
Added Hudson, still smiling: "Obviously, if guys are on base, that's one thing. But if I come up with nobody on, two out and he starts breaking all this stuff on me, I'm going to do the same."
Because they know each other so well, each respects the other's hitting ability. Hudson was the Southeastern Conference's Most Valuable Player at Auburn University for his hitting and pitching. Mulder also was a strong hitter at Michigan State.
"Oh, yeah, he can hit," Hudson said. "He's a real good hitter. He hit cleanup for his college team. I know he can swing the bat. Yeah, man, I'm going to have to pitch him."
Mulder didn't reveal the specifics of what he said are many side bets with Hudson, but neither wants to give up a hit to the other.
"It'll be fun," Mulder said. "It should be. I hope so. ... We'll total it up at the end. There's no point in worrying about it now."
Even if they were not good friends and former teammates, this would be a matchup to watch.
Mulder is 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA after pitching a 10-inning shutout to beat Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros 1-0 Saturday. He was picked as the NL Player of the Week.
Hudson also has been as good as promised, going 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his first four starts with the Braves.
Mulder averaged 18 wins the last four years, including a 21-8 mark in 2001.
Even with a dip to a 12-6 record last season, Hudson averaged 16 wins the last five years. He left as Oakland's career leader with a .702 winning percentage, and he has never lost more than nine games in a season.
Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche said Hudson has brought a relaxed presence to Atlanta's clubhouse, where Bobby Cox's players have been known for being low-key but businesslike.
"He's so relaxed and laid back. He's a pitcher that on the day he's pitching, you can joke around with him," said LaRoche, Hudson's clubhouse neighbor. "He's not sitting there sweating, thinking about what he did the game before."
LaRoche said Hudson "is also incredibly competitive, I don't care who he's facing."
Even if Hudson cracks a smile when facing Mulder the hitter, LaRoche said Hudson will be focused on winning.
"I suppose he will probably have a little more fire under him," LaRoche said.
Said Hudson: "It's going to be cool."