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Even Trevor May Not Be Forever

Hoffman is the face of Padre franchise, but he might not be back next season

October 08, 2005|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

SAN DIEGO — Would Trevor Hoffman really leave his beachfront home and the organization for which he has pitched since 1994?

Would the San Diego Padres really sever Trevor and silence the bells just as he closes in on the all-time saves record?

It might be difficult to believe, but there is a real possibility that his resounding entrance theme, AC/DC's "Hells Bells," has tolled for the last time at Petco Park.

The division series between San Diego and St. Louis moves to the fringe of the Gaslamp Quarter tonight with the Padres on the verge of playoff extinction.

And Hoffman, who hasn't pitched as the Cardinals swept the first two games, doesn't have a contract for next season.

With Eric Gagne sidelined in Los Angeles, and with Armando Benitez and Brandon Lyon injured for most of the season in San Francisco and Arizona, it was Hoffman's continued dominance -- at 37 and with three shoulder operations behind him -- that proved to be the difference in the National League West, a division in which .500 was a monumental goal.

"We are where we are because of Hoffy and our bullpen," General Manager Kevin Towers said. "We were healthy at the end of games and the rest of the division wasn't."

But Hoffman's San Diego roots could be tenuous.

There have been no negotiations on a new contract, Hoffman is perplexed that the Padres chose to open contract talks first with outfielder Brian Giles, and the pitcher's agent, Rick Thurman, has his sights on the $10.5 million that Mariano Rivera receives as baseball's highest-paid closer. Hoffman received $5 million this year, and Thurman said there would not be a hometown discount.

"We've played that game before," Thurman said. "The Padres will have to treat him as he would be treated anywhere else."

Would the Padres double the salary of a closer who turns 38 on Thursday?

"I don't think we can afford not to have him back," Towers said. "Hoffy is the face of the Padres, as Tony Gwynn used to be, and he's still productive.

"As much as we struggled offensively this year, he helped us make the most of what we got. He kept us sane, as he always has during the rough years. He's as good as he's always been."

But since Sandy Alderson arrived in San Diego to run the organization under owner John Moores, Towers may not have the final vote on multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts.

Alderson was often an outspoken critic of such contracts while working in the commissioner's office, and boss Moores already has demonstrated a penurious posture, alienating a large segment of fans by not doing more with his Petco Park revenue to bolster the Padre offense in 2005.

Whether setup men Scott Linebrink or Akinori Otsuka could fill a Hoffman vacuum, or there is comparable help in the market, is another issue.

The vacuum would be sizable.

Hoffman converted 43 of 46 save opportunities this year and now has 436, second on the all-time list behind Lee Smith's 478 and on his way, perhaps, to what has been an elusive destination for closers, the Hall of Fame.

"God willing, he's going to save more than 500 games before he's through," Padre coach Davey Lopes said of Hoffman. "If he doesn't get in then, no one should."

Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley are the only closers with Cooperstown plaques. At his Petco Park locker recently, Hoffman shook his head and said, "It's difficult to field questions about the Hall of Fame without a little bit of venom coming out."

Hoffman continues to boost his credentials, which include a 90% success rate in 487 opportunities. This was his seventh season of 40 or more saves, a major league record, and his 10th of 30 or more, one behind Smith's record 11.

With his 86- to 89-mph velocity enhanced by generally precise location and a 76-mph changeup that remains among baseball's best, Hoffman turned in 38 straight saves during the heart of the season.

"I've been living with the same stuff for 10 years now," Hoffman said. "It's a cat-and-mouse game for me ... learning to reduce the margin of error by dominating a zone of the plate where the hitter is less likely to hurt me."

The routine doesn't change.

He runs for 10 to 20 minutes before every game, getting his heart rate to a level comparable to the ninth inning. He goes to the clubhouse in mid-game to shine his spikes and loosen his muscles with a warm shower.

"Seems to work pretty well," Hoffman said with a smile.

Indeed, he is convincingly back on track after Dr. Lewis Yocum made no guarantees when operating on Hoffman's shoulder twice in a four-month span in 2002 and 2003.

In addition to Yocum, Hoffman credits Manager Bruce Bochy's judicious use and his late father, Ed Hoffman, for not allowing any of his sons to throw breaking pitches in Little League.

"I'm on Dad's time now," said Hoffman, who didn't start pitching regularly until he was in Class A in the Cincinnati system and his manager, Jim Lett (now the Dodger bench coach), suggested it.

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