If needed, Hoffman ready to slam door
Padres closer has converted 24 of 25 save opportunities
PITTSBURGH -- Asked to ponder the prospect of facing former Padres teammate Trevor Hoffman in the Major League All-Star Game on Tuesday night, Boston's Mark Loretta couldn't help grinning."Well," Loretta said, "I'd look for the changeup ... but I don't know if I can hit it anyway." Hoffman's wicked changeup -- along with his fastball and slider -- comes equipped with an eye for the black and will be at manager Phil Garner's disposal. The National League will try to escape the long, puzzling grip -- eight wins and a tie since 1996 -- that the American League holds on the Midsummer Classic. "I'd love to be that guy who has the opportunity to close it out for the National League," Hoffman, the lone Padres All-Star representative, said on Monday. "If it comes down to the ninth inning, I sure hope it's me. "We've lost [eight] straight, and we want to win a ballgame. Whatever it takes, I'm all for it. That home-field advantage for the National League would be very important in the World Series." Another of the NL closers, Philadelphia's Tom Gordon, is a Hoffman admirer. "When Trevor Hoffman takes the mound," Gordon said, "guys already feel like the game is over. "He's not a guy who's going to throw 95, but his command is unbelievable. I'd love to take Trevor's changeup -- and give him my slider." Gordon mentioned the possibility of Hoffman eclipsing Lee Smith's saves record of 486 -- Hoffman has 468 -- late this season. Gordon called it a "fantastic" achievement. Asked for his dream scenario for his first All-Star Game, Atlanta catcher Brian McCann didn't hesitate. "Catching Trevor Hoffman in the ninth inning," McCann said. The starting NL catcher, the Mets' Paul Lo Duca, saw Hoffman several times while playing for the Dodgers. Lo Duca compared Hoffman's professionalism with that of Mets teammate Tom Glavine. "Trevor's the one guy [as an opponent] you don't want to see on the mound in the ninth inning," Lo Duca said. "He's been in so many big situations for so long, he knows exactly what he needs to do. "Best of all, he's a good person. People have no idea what it means to young players having a guy like Trevor, or Tom Glavine, to show them how it's done." In his fifth trip to the All-Star Game, Hoffman is looking for his first happy ending. He appeared in the 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002 Classics, but the NL could not arrange a save situation in any of them.
This All-Star Game carries extra meaning to Hoffman, whose team is a contender to face the American League's best in the World Series. San Diego has a 48-40 record and a two-game lead in the NL West."I like how our ballclub could set up in a short series -- and over the long haul," Hoffman said. He delivered on 24 of 25 save attempts in a dazzling first half. In 35 appearances, he put up a 1.03 ERA. "With a lot of changes, I think we have a ballclub that needed time to come together," Hoffman said. "It does take time. The 5-1 trip we just had in Philly and Washington is important. In a way, you hate to take a break when you're rolling like that, but I think it will help some guys to take a rest. "We want to keep that momentum going when we come back after the break, but you can't get too excited too early. It's a tough division, and I know a lot of people think it's going down to the wire. But with our pitching and defense, and with our offense coming around, I think we have the ingredients to separate ourselves a little." Hoffman, 38, called himself one of the "old goats" on the NL roster. He also alluded to the Padres' superlative defense when asked to comment on manager Bruce Bochy's view that Hoffman is as good as ever, if not better. "I might personally have had better stuff earlier in my career," Hoffman said. "If you look at the number of hits versus strikeouts, I might have been more dominating. "But I have been better because of the support around me. Those guys have been making plays that have saved my hide." Hoffman referred to the latest in a string of sensational plays by shortstop Khalil Greene behind him in Washington on Saturday night. "He backhanded it, went up in the air and threw to first," Hoffman said. "He's kind of getting into this whole thing of saving my butt. For Greeney, it's kind of cool." Hoffman mentioned Greene, Chris Young and center fielder Mike Cameron among teammates he considered deserving of All-Star berths. "I wish we could have had more representation here," he said. "We're a first-place club, eight games over .500. But we fly under the radar." In October, he hopes, the radar will find the Padres.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.