© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
SAN DIEGO -- For nearly 14 seasons, it has been "Trevor Time" for closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman in a Padres uniform. And on Sunday, it was time for Hoffman to take his place among baseball immortals.
With 14 pitches and his usual large dose of moxie, Hoffman recorded his 479th save and went into first place on the all-time list ahead of Lee Smith by retiring all three Pirates he faced to close a 2-1 victory that ended the home portion of the Padres' 2006 schedule with a flourish.
He did it with his mother, two brothers, oodles of family members from his wife's side, three little sons and 41,932 clamoring Padres fans on hand at PETCO Park, the downtown yard where the Padres have played the last three seasons after 35 in Mission Valley.
"It was overwhelming," Hoffman said after the game and all the festivities were over. "It's become a very humbling experience. It's been fantastic up to this point. It's hard to put into words to explain what it feels like. It's more than one person deserves."
Hoffman's No. 51 game jersey, the game ball, his cleats, etc., will all be donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and placed on display. Hoffman said he would be content with pulling a ball out of the game bag and marking it with the date and save number as his own keepsake.
He doesn't mind. His National League-leading 43rd save kept the Padres 1 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West with seven games left to play.
"That's all I've got, and that's where it all belongs," Hoffman said about shipping the mementos to Cooperstown, N.Y.
This was all made possible when Freddy Sanchez, the National League's leading hitter at .342, was sent up to pinch-hit in the ninth inning after Ryan Doumit struck out looking and Jose Bautista did likewise swinging on a full count.
After taking the first pitch for a strike, Sanchez grounded the ball just wide of a diving Manny Alexander at third, and as shortstop Geoff Blum played it in the hole, Sanchez stumbled on his way out of the batter's box. Blum, thus, had plenty of time to nab Sanchez at first for the record-setting out.
Asked how much of that last play he was able to take in, Hoffman said:
"I saw the ball off the bat. I see Manny dive. Expletive, expletive in my head. 'I'm going to have to get the next guy.' Blumer fields it. Comes up. Throws. 'Oh, my. What happened? Thank goodness.' I don't mean it sarcastically. That's just the way it played out in my mind."
With that, what ensued was a deafening roar and a raucous celebration at the mound worthy of a championship clincher. Catcher Josh Bard leapt Yogi Berra-Don Larsen style into Hoffman's arms as the nearly 39-year-old reliever was mobbed by his teammates, who came streaming out of the Padres' first-base side dugout and in from the center-field bullpen.
On the Pirates' side, the players remained in their dugout paying homage, Jim Tracy, Hoffman's long-ago Minor League manager in the Cincinnati organization the year he was converted from a shortstop to a pitcher, standing on the front step. Some offered applause. Some watched the proceedings with respect.
"I've never seen a crowd get into one inning for one guy like that before," said John Grabow, a member of the relief fraternity himself. "You get goose bumps even if you are on the other team."
Hoffman had tied Smith's record in impressive style on Saturday night by also retiring the three Pirates he faced on 12 pitches, thus securing another 2-1 victory. For Hoffman, he reached Smith's nearly decade-old mark by converting five of his six save opportunities in the last eight days, including four on this just-concluded 5-1 homestand.
The weekend sweep of the Bucs was historic by any baseball standard, but even more so in San Diego, where the Padres have won only two NL pennants but never captured a World Series title. On Friday night, Chris Young was a double-play grounder away from tossing the first no-hitter in club history when Joe Randa spoiled it with his two-run homer.
Hoffman then became the first player to have played primarily with the Padres to take the lead on an all-time Major League list in any category by shutting down the Bucs on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
Hoffman may have not been a home-grown Padre, but he certainly earned his baseball stripes in San Diego. Hoffman was traded by Florida to San Diego on June 24, 1993 -- three months into his Major League career -- in a deal that sent All-Star Gary Sheffield to the Marlins.
Randy Smith, the general manager back then, was roundly criticized as the team shed most of its high-priced players.
"We got Trevor in the fire sale," said manager Bruce Bochy about that controversial deal. "Some fire sale that turned out to be."
Hoffman, who has recorded all except two of his record saves for the Padres since that trade, knew he had a tough job ahead of him to win the fans over. He was 25 years old at the time.
"Obviously, the greeting that we had back in 1993 was a bit tumultuous," Hoffman said. "You kind of have to expect that when you're the one guy who comes over in the trade and an All-Star is going the other way. There was a lot of animosity surrounding the organization at that time. I knew it was something I couldn't change in a day. I knew fans would respect the way I approached the game and hopefully do a few things on the field to gain their respect."
Nearly 14 seasons later, there could be no doubt of that on Sunday as fans, teammates and opponents alike watched a postgame video tribute to Hoffman on the left-field video board.
It's been "Trevor Time" again and again, but never more so than on Sunday with a division title still to be clinched and a lot more games yet to be saved.