In the 2006 regular season finale at Petco Park, in front of 41,932 enthusiastic fans, “Hells Bells” rang loud. It was the top of the ninth, with Padres leading the Pirates 2-1. With AC/DC as the background, closer Trevor Hoffman ran to the mound to get three more outs.
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With the crowd on its feet, Hoffman struck out Ryan Doumit with the nasty changeup he had became known for. Next, he struck out Jose Bautista with a fastball. The reliever then got Freddy Sanchez, the NL batting leader, to ground out to shortstop. Three up. Three down. On the year, it was Hoffman’s NL-best 43rd save in 48 chances. But from a career standpoint, it was his 479th carer save, surpassing Lee Smith and establishing him as baseball’s all-time career save leader.
“It’s overwhelming,” Hoffman told the Associated Press. “It’s hard to put into words what it truly feels like.”
Pirates Manager Jim Tracy helped put the day in perspective. “It’s a credit to him because he’s one of the finest people in the game,” Tracy, who had managed the Dodgers the previous five seasons, told the AP. “It’s a tribute to his resiliency. It’s a tribute to his work ethic. It’s a tribute to his moxie because a not a lot of people can do what he does.”
Hoffman would add to the record with three more saves down the stretch in 2006, helping the Padres win their fifth National League West title. That season, the closer would finish with 46 saves in 51 chances and a 2.14 ERA.
Hoffman would go on to save 72 more games for the Padres, giving him a team and National League record of 552, 444 more than Rollie Fingers previous record of 108. The closer, who came to the Padres from the Marlins via a 1993 trade involving Gary Sheffield, appeared in 902 games over 16 seasons, posting a 2.76 ERA. He finished with 20 or more saves every year with the Padres but two — his first and 2003, which he missed the majority of due to a shoulder injury. The Padres retired his number 51 in 2011.
Overall, the seven-time All-Star, would finish with 601 career saves, a record that stood until Mariano Rivera set the new mark in 2011. Hoffman still stands at second in all-time saves, notching 123 more saves than third-place Smith’s 478. He converted close to 90% of his saves, had 14 seasons with 30 saves or more, and finished in the top six in Cy Young Award voting four times.
His best season came during the Padres National League Championship in 1998, when he went 4-2 with 53 saves, a 1.48 ERA. He blew only one save opportunity. Unbelievably, he finished second to Atlanta’s Tom Glavine for the Cy Young Award, despite receiving more first place votes than Glavine.
Fittingly, in 2014, Major League Baseball established the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award.
The next stop for Hoffman, who currently serves as a Special Assistant to the General Manager for the Padres, is Cooperstown. He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2016.