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10/05/06 4:21 PM ET
Hoffman, Smith share same stage
Pads closer catches first pitch from ex-saves record holder
By Amanda Branam / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- On a cloudy Thursday morning in San Diego, the past and the present took the field at the same time.
Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader as of Sept. 24, sat next to Lee Smith, the man Hoffman passed to obtain the record.
"I told him a little while ago, thanks for all the publicity," Smith said.
"Well, one thing I wanted him to do was hold off for another year. Let me like bask in that glory for a little longer."
Hoffman broke Smith's record in the last home game of the regular season with his 479th save, and had invited Smith to San Diego to be on hand for the possible record-breaking weekend. Smith could not make it due to prior commitments, but on Thursday, the 48-year-old Smith was at PETCO Park, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Hoffman before Game 2 of the National League Division Series between the Padres and the Cardinals.
Smith not only had his all-time saves record broken this season, but his Cardinals franchise record of 160 saves was passed on June 13 by St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen. Smith, with St. Louis from 1990-1993, enjoyed his most productive seasons in a Cardinals uniform, earning a career-high 47 saves in 1991.
Smith hit the 40-saves mark two more times in his 18-year career, which ended in 1997 with Montreal. Hoffman, still going strong at 38 years old, led the league with 46 saves this year, the eighth time the right-hander has accumulated at least 40 saves in a season. In 1998, Hoffman eclipsed the 50-save mark, saving a National League-leading 53 games.
The way these two men went about shutting the doors on games is quite different. Smith had the fortune of a sizzling fastball. Hoffman did at the start of his closing career, but due to shoulder issues over his time in the Major Leagues, he successfully evolved into a finesse pitcher with changeup that continues to baffle hitters.
One common thread between the two is each closer's desire to be on the mound when the game is on the line. Another is their work ethic.
"For myself, I would go as far as watching the umpires and situational hitting, and I went to hitters' meetings, listen to things like that," Smith said.
"But the thing is when you go between the lines, I was a fastball pitcher. If a guy is a good fastball hitter, I'm not going to change what I do when I go out there. That's what I see in Trevor. You don't go out there day in, day out and try to pitch the situation. You got to go out there. My game is what it is. I can't change that because that's what got you there."
Smith is hoping that all this publicity will help earn him induction into the Hall of Fame, and get more of an appreciation for closers in general. Hoffman hopes for the same.
"Lee did an unbelievable job grinding it out as long as he did," Hoffman said. "I don't think there's enough credit given to the closer, let alone the number he threw out there for us to chase. Truly remarkable."
Not just anyone can close the door on baseball games, as any fan can see. As Smith said Thursday, "It's just something about that 27th out that scares a lot of guys."
For Hoffman and Smith, taking the field together on Thursday, they have never been scared of the 27th out being in their hands. And the record books reflect that.