Trevor Hoffman's most memorable moments

March 6th, 2022

Funny thing about Trevor Hoffman. After a big save, he was scarce. Reporters had to be patient -- and have a late deadline -- to get him to discuss his exploits. After a rare blown save, however, Hoffman was at his locker the moment the media entered, ready to field any and all questions.

Hoffman was about accountability. He understood the nature of the closer role. Hoffman knew that if he slipped, it likely meant defeat for the team. The last thing he wanted, he said, was to watch his teammates battle for eight innings, only to let them down in the ninth. Hoffman combined tireless preparation and unwavering determination with a baffling changeup to master that ninth inning for 18 Major League seasons.

Hoffman and Yankees great Mariano Rivera remain the only players to reach the 600-save level, and they entered the Hall of Fame only a year apart. Here is a subjective list of the top 10 moments and achievements that marked Hoffman’s career.

1. Moving atop the saves chart
Sept. 24, 2006
The evolution of the closer role into a one-inning specialist suited Hoffman. His changeup was his out pitch, and the fewer times opponents saw him, the more effective he was. Hoffman piled up the saves after emerging as the Padres’ closer in 1994, and he passed Lee Smith for No. 1 all time with his 479th career save. Yes, it was a one-inning effort as Hoffman preserved a 2-1 victory over the Pirates at Petco Park. The right-hander struck out Ryan Doumit looking at a changeup and José Bautista swinging at a fastball before getting Freddy Sanchez to ground out to end the game. Hoffman retained the record for career saves until Rivera caught and passed him in 2011. Still, Hoffman’s final total of 601 is the National League mark.

2. Bells start ringing
July 25, 1998
Hoffman had plenty of MLB success. He had a distinctive delivery with his high leg kick. He had a signature pitch with that changeup. And he had charisma. Still, he would not have been nearly as memorable without his stadium-shaking entry song, “Hells Bells” by AC/DC. Stirred by the opening “bong” as Hoffman stepped onto the field and an ever-intensifying guitar riff during his warmup tosses on the mound, the crowds at Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park were in a frenzy by the time Hoffman’s first pitch left his hand. Hoffman was already an All-Star closer by the time the Padres’ entertainment staff suggested the song. It was played for the first time at the Q as Hoffman entered in a save situation against the Astros. It took a few seconds for the fans to react, but they were on their feet by the time Ricky Gutierrez stepped in the box. Hoffman proceeded to dispatch Houston with ease, and he now had a soundtrack to his career.

3. There for his teammate
Oct. 7, 2006
Hoffman had but four postseason saves. The last of those exemplified why he was beloved by his teammates. The Padres were facing elimination in Game 3 of the NL Division Series vs. the Cardinals but led 3-1 late in that game. It was time for Hoffman to get loose. It also was time for bullpen catcher Mark Merila to go to work. Merila in 2006 was battling a cancerous brain tumor that was affecting motor function on the right side of his body -- he could catch just fine, but his right arm became unreliable and throws back to the pitcher were erratic. He had stopped catching other pitchers late in the season, but Hoffman wanted to keep working with his friend and teammate. With the Padres’ season on the line at Busch Stadium, Merila worried when his wild throws caused Hoffman to put in extra effort. He tried to call on another catcher to step in. Hoffman refused and instead gave Merila a forceful pep talk.

“He was worried about messing up my routine,” Hoffman recalled. “You know what? There's bigger things than going out there to pitch. Let's take a step back and have some fun. That's what we're supposed to be doing, even though it's a big moment. Let's get through this. He didn't have to take himself so seriously. He was doing fine. He just needed to hear it."

Merila and Hoffman finished the warmup session together, as they had so many times before, and Hoffman kept the Padres alive with a seven-pitch save, retiring Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Juan Encarnacion in order. Merila’s cancer battle ultimately ended his days in uniform, but he never yielded to the tumor. He now works as a Padres pro scout.

4. Call to Cooperstown
July 29, 2018
Hoffman appeared in 1,035 games and posted a 2.87 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He held opponents to a .211 batting average and converted 89% of his save opportunities. That success, his saves total and his seven All-Star selections built a strong enough case for Hoffman to earn election to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his third appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. He was the sixth relief pitcher inducted, beating Rivera and Smith to Cooperstown by one year.

5. Save No. 600
Sept. 7, 2010
Hoffman was a worthy heir to Tony Gwynn as the face of the Padres’ franchise and become the undisputed clubhouse leader -- a rare role for a closer. So it was a shock when Padres CEO Sandy Alderson opted not to re-sign Hoffman after the 2008 season. Hoffman joined the Brewers as a free agent and gave them an All-Star season in 2009. His age-42 season in 2010 proved to be his final one, and Hoffman ceded the closer role to John Axford, but he had one more milestone. Save No. 600 was a 14-pitch effort as Hoffman preserved a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals at Miller Park.

6. Time to change
During the 1994-95 offseason Hoffman injured his pitching shoulder while enjoying a day at the beach -- either diving on the sand during a volleyball game or diving into the waves trying to catch a football. He didn’t miss any time the following season, but his fastball velocity dipped from 95-plus mph to the low 90s. He’d been fine with a fastball-slider mix, but he knew he now needed something more to keep hitters off-balance if he couldn’t rely on his fastball as the out pitch. He’d tinkered with a changeup before but didn’t find the right feel for the pitch until teammate Donnie Elliott showed him his grip: He pinched his index finger and thumb together at a particular seam. It was the “ah ha!” moment for Hoffman and the “oh no!” moment for batters.

7. World Series-bound
Oct. 14, 1998
Fittingly, Hoffman was on the mound the last time the Padres advanced to the World Series. It wasn’t a save situation, but the Padres took no chances and tabbed Hoffman to end their 5-0 victory at Atlanta in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series. He cruised through a 1-2-3 inning, inducing a fly ball by Michael Tucker for the final out. The Padres ran into a Yankees buzz saw in the World Series, but the entire 1998 season was peak Hoffman. He extended his consecutive saves streak (started in ’97) to 41, which was then tied for the MLB record. He finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting. And he posted career bests with a 1.48 ERA, 53 saves and a 0.85 WHIP.

8. On the bump
The Cincinnati Reds saw enough athleticism in Hoffman during his days as an infielder at the University of Arizona to select him in the 11th round of the 1989 MLB Draft. They didn’t see much from his bat in his first two pro seasons, however. Noting his strong throws from shortstop, the Reds suggested to Hoffman that his future might lie on the mound. He hadn’t pitched since Little League, but Hoffman embraced the challenge. He started the conversion with side sessions under the watch of pitching coach Mike Griffin in 1990, went to instructional league as a pitcher that fall and was unveiled as a fireballing reliever in 1991. He recorded an amazing 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his first season as a pitcher.

9. First of many
April 29, 1993
Hoffman made his name with the Padres, and he learned to pitch in the Reds’ system. But his first MLB save came as a member of the Marlins, who had plucked him from Cincinnati in the Expansion Draft. In his 10th big league appearance, Hoffman preserved a 6-5 victory at Atlanta. He made the mistake of walking the leadoff batter in the ninth inning, speedy Otis Nixon, but got the next three batters on a sacrifice bunt and two flyouts to earn save No. 1. Less than two months later, Hoffman was on his way to San Diego in the trade that sent slugger Gary Sheffield to the Marlins.

10. One last hit
Aug. 5, 1999
Hoffman broke into baseball as a position player, so there’s got to be a highlight with the bat, right? Let’s go with his final MLB hit, a two-run double off Manny Aybar in St. Louis. Manager Bruce Bochy called on Hoffman for a four-out save, and the Padres broke the game open in the top of the ninth. Hoffman, the eighth hitter of the inning, split the left-center gap with a well-struck ball to bring home Tony Gwynn and Wally Joyner, capping San Diego’s 10-3 victory. Hoffman played 11 more seasons thereafter but saw only five plate appearances and never reached base safely again.