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Hoffman passed Eck, respected Hall of Famer

Recorded his 321st save with Padres on May 1, 2002
San Diego Padres

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

Trevor Hoffman admired Dennis Eckersley.

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

Trevor Hoffman admired Dennis Eckersley.

"I first watched him in the early 1980s, when Eck was a teammate of my brother Glenn with the Boston Red Sox," Hoffman said recently. "I watched how he worked before games each day. I watched how he pitched.

"A lot of things I did throughout my career had to do with the lessons I learned from watching dedicated players like Eck and Glenn. Then, when I started pitching, Dennis Eckersley became something of a benchmark for me. I studied him. I respected him."

So, early in the 2002 season, Hoffman was well aware that he was closing in on Eckersley's record of 320 saves with a single team. Eckersley had done it with the Oakland A's.

"Eckersley was a very special pitcher," said Hoffman. "He had successful careers as both a starter and a closer."

In all, Eckersley spent 24 seasons in the Major Leagues en route to the Hall of Fame.

"One of the things that has always impressed me is longevity," said Hoffman. "Longevity doesn't happen. Longevity is something you earn. I admired Dennis Eckersley ... his career, what he did, how he did it and who he was."

Because of that, Hoffman admits that he was "pretty locked in on it" as he approached Eckersley's record for saves with one team.

"It's an unusual feeling that's hard to totally explain," said Hoffman. "This man I admire holds this record I revere, and I'm getting close to it. That baseball people might associate me with Eckersley as I approached this record meant a lot to me.

"The closer I got to the mark, the more I thought about Eck and all the things he had accomplished. I think a lot of people were unaware of the record. I was totally aware of the record and what it meant to me as a milestone."

Hoffman became the all-time leader for saves with one team on May 1, 2002, in a 4-3 Padres win against the Chicago Cubs at Qualcomm Stadium. He opened the inning by striking out Todd Hundley. He retired Delino DeShields on a line drive to third. And he closed out save No. 321 by retiring Roosevelt Brown on a grounder to second.

Hoffman would extend the mark to 552 before it was eventually eclipsed by Mariano Rivera of the Yankees.

"Setting that record always meant a lot to me, not because of the number, but because of the man who held it."

San Diego Padres