SAN DIEGO -- When the Padres watch other clubs struggle to hold ninth-inning leads, nobody has to remind them how fortunate they are to have Trevor Hoffman trotting out of the bullpen, head always down as he ponders the task ahead, the coolest cat at PETCO Park and any other Major League ballpark. "He's one of a kind," shortstop Khalil Greene said. "He's tough-minded, he's smart -- and he has a tremendous will to win. He's really amazing." Hoffman will be making his fifth All-Star Game appearance in Pittsburgh on July 11, having been selected to the National League's pitching staff on Sunday.
"It's an honor to be selected, to get an opportunity to go and represent my team," Hoffman said. "We fly under the radar a little here in San Diego, and I wish some of my teammates were coming along with me. I just hope our fans get on the Internet and vote for Chris Young [in the Final Vote], because he deserves to be there." Since blowing two saves in his first five chances in 2005, Hoffman has been on a major roll, nailing down 60 of his past 62 attempts to continue his unrelenting pursuit of Lee Smith as the game's all-time saves master. Hoffman, with 456, trails Smith by 22 and could supplant the leader late in the season. Through Sunday, Hoffman had 20 saves in 21 opportunities with a microscopic 1.16 ERA in 31 appearances. "I've been luckier," he said, grinning. "Our defense has been unbelievable, making highlight-reel plays every time I'm out there." Jake Peavy, the Padres' 2005 All-Star representative, doesn't think luck has much to do with it. "He's as good as he's ever been," Peavy said, echoing the words of manager Bruce Bochy. "He's going to go down as one of the all-time greatest closers," Bochy said. Hoffman, who appeared in the 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002 Midsummer Classics, said he would approach the game as he would any other -- meaning with the total commitment that has characterized his 13 seasons in the Major Leagues. "You're competitive, everybody wants to win," Hoffman said, aware that the American League has won nine of the past 10 All-Star Games, with one memorable tie in 1996. "You can label it as an exhibition, but if you play the game right for 15, 20 years, you don't shift gears and go the other way." Hoffman comes into every season with the same mind-set. "I think you always have to prove yourself," he said. "That approach allows you to constantly push yourself and rise to the expectations you set forth. It has to start somewhere, and that's my approach. Every spring game, every bullpen is the same way -- there's nothing fake about it. "It's a privilege to pick up the baseball and throw it. It's something that was taken away from me in '02 [by shoulder surgery]. There's a certain respect for the game that begins from day one and carries you through. I try to prepare myself so there are no surprises, whether it's March or October." Hoffman has walked five batters while striking out 24, giving up 25 hits in 31 innings. Opponents are batting .214 with a .246 on-base percentage. "What more can you say about the guy?" Bochy said. "I couldn't be happier for him. I thought last year he should have been on the club. He earned it. I think he was voted in by the players, which shows not only his talent but the respect he has of his peers. "To be at this stage of his career, as effective and consistent as ever, is pretty impressive. I've said it many times -- I've been fortunate to have Trevor as my closer since I've been here." When the Padres manager for 12 years says Hoffman is as good as ever, he's really saying something. A study in consistency, Hoffman has put together 10 seasons of 30-plus saves and nine seasons with at least 37 saves. "I appreciate comments like that," Hoffman said, informed of Bochy's remark. "It's definitely coming from someone who's been watching me for a long period of time. "I have a tendency to operate better when I'm flying under the radar. I'm my biggest motivator and critic at the same time. I don't need national exposure or headlines to feel I belong. "I'm not striving for that recognition. I know how good it felt in '98 when we went to the World Series, where the credit was going around the room. I just want to be part of a winning team at this point." His knowledge and superb conditioning at 38 have him throwing fastballs on the black and knee-buckling changeups that continue to baffle hitters after all these years. "It's all about making good pitches," Hoffman said, simply. "As long as I can do that, I should be all right." Hoffman, who narrowly missed making the All-Star team last season in the Final Vote among fans that went to Houston's Roy Oswalt, hopes to find Young in his company in the National League clubhouse in Pittsburgh. "Everyone else seems to be thinking that one player from the club is enough, but that's not right," he said. "We've been able to stay in the thick of it, and we're the defending [National League West] division champs. "I'm pulling for Chris to win the vote. He should be there, too."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.