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Save No. 479 earned Hoffman spot in history

Record set in Padres' final home game of 2006
San Diego Padres

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

As the 2006 season wore down, there was no question that Trevor Hoffman would get his 479th save to pass Lee Smith as baseball's all-time leader in the category.

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

As the 2006 season wore down, there was no question that Trevor Hoffman would get his 479th save to pass Lee Smith as baseball's all-time leader in the category.

The bigger question was where.

"I really wanted to set the record at home, at Petco Park before Padres fans," Hoffman said recently as he remembered the game that pushed him over the top.

"Padres fans had been part of the journey the whole time. And as I approached the record, I kept thinking back to Tony Gwynn. Tony's 3,000th hit deserved a better stage than coming before 5,000 in Montreal. I wanted to do it at home."

And as Hoffman approached the record, the Padres were nearing the end of the line in home games in 2006. He tied Smith's record of 478 in the penultimate home game of the 2006 season -- a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That meant he had one more opportunity at home -- on the afternoon of Sept. 24 -- to break the record before the Padres ended the season on a road trip.

"When you think about it, a save is really a team statistic," said Hoffman. "For a closer to get a save, the offense has to get a lead and the pitchers leading up to the eighth or ninth have to do their jobs. So I needed a lot of things to fall into place on Sept. 24 for me to break the record at home."

And they did. For the second straight game, the Padres led the Pirates 2-1 as Hoffman trotted in from the Petco Park bullpen to "Hells Bells."

This was more than an opportunity to claim the saves record. The Padres were also en route to winning a second straight National League West title for the first time in franchise history.

"What could have been more perfect?" said Hoffman. "Going for it at home in the middle of a pennant drive in a one-run game."

Only one thing stood between Hoffman and the record -- the Pirates.

The 41,932 at Petco Park remained on their feet during the ninth.

"My thing was to stay focused and not get swept up in the moment," said Hoffman.

Hoffman got the first out of the ninth as Pittsburgh first baseman Ryan Doumit took a 73-mph change up for a called third strike. Then third baseman Jose Bautista went down swinging on an 88-mph fastball.

That brought up pinch-hitter Freddy Sanchez, who hit a bouncer between third and short.

As shortstop Geoff Blum went far to his right into the 5.5 hole, Hoffman, who was watching Blum, thought to himself: "No problem, Blummer, eat it and we'll get the next one."

But to Hoffman's surprise, Blum came up throwing. "I'm wondering why Blummer is throwing ball from the hole?"

What Blum saw -- and Hoffman didn't -- was Sanchez stumble leaving the batter's box. Blum's strike to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez closed out save 479.

"It took a split second to set in because I wasn't expecting Blum to throw the ball. I heard the crowd before I turned to see Gonzalez record the out. The crowd actually reacted a split-second before I did, which when I looked back at that moment later made it all the more special.

"It was so great to tie and set the record at home. I kept thinking I wish Tony had had his chance to enjoy his milestone like this."

"How great it was to address the crowd afterward. Everything played into it. The emotion, the energy, the crowd, the situation and magnitude of those games."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

San Diego Padres