Hoffman downplays individual feats
Focused on team goals, closer to be honored before Game 2
SAN DIEGO -- Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who became Major League Baseball's all-time save leader this season, will be honored in a special ceremony Thursday prior to Game 2 of the National League Division Series at PETCO Park, but there'll be a turnabout twist.He'll be a catcher this time. Hoffman surpassed former Cardinals great Lee Smith's record of 478 saves on Sept. 24, and he pushed it to 482 regular-season saves and counting, yet he'll be the recipient of Smith's ceremonial first pitch before the Padres take on the Cardinals. Moments earlier, the 38-year-old Hoffman will be recognized for his feat, and while those ceremonies will be great on a personal level, Hoffman said Wednesday there are more important things on his mind. "I don't know a lot about it, but I was made aware Lee is coming tomorrow," Hoffman said of the ceremony. "I'm flattered he's going to make time to come here -- it's great he's been able to do that. "I spoke to him over the phone when we were closing in on the record. [The record] is all part of the process, but our focus is to get a championship and start from there."
Smith and Hoffman will also be paired in a pregame press conference, and it should be a mutual admiration gathering with presumably no hard feelings from the ex-record holder."You'll have to ask Smith," cracked Hoffman. Hoffman hasn't been in a desperately tight postseason game since facing the Yankees in the 1998 World Series -- last year vs. St. Louis in the NLDS he mopped up in the last frame of a 7-4 defeat, but he fully expects to pitch with meaning in this best-of-five series, which San Diego trails, 1-0. "You wait for your opportunity," he said. "I'm ready to go, but if there's not a lead to protect, you don't get in. It's not fun just to get into games to get work. Hoffman expressed confidence in the Padres. They have been battle-tested thanks to postseason veterans, with the younger players feeling -- and surviving -- a stressful September. No question, he said, the Friars are poised to take Game 2 and even the series. "We understand it would have been nice to win the first game, but we didn't," he said. "It's not an end-all. We feel very comfortable with the club we have. We've been facing some big games the last month and this is the biggest game of the year."
The 38-year-old Hoffman converted 46 of 51 save chances this year to lead the league for the second time in his 14-year career. Smith, who lives in Shreveport, La., and is a Minor League instructor for the Giants, played 18 Major League campaigns for eight different teams.
Hoffman, who blew out his right shoulder in 1994, adjusted to decreased velocity on his fastball by bringing his changeup to the fore, and his domination of hitters continued.
While his fastball clocks a mediocre 88 mph, that slow, slower, slowest changeup in the mid-70s range keeps fooling the opposition, which hit .206 off Hoffman this season.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.