SAN DIEGO -- The final regular-season game of 2006 at PETCO Park is in the books. Closer Trevor Hoffman put it in the record books. Hoffman calmly set down the Pirates in order in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday, converting the 479th save of his illustrious career, making him the all-time leader in Major League history. Offensively, the Padres relied on a pair of home runs to squeeze by the Pirates, 2-1, and sweep the three-game series, holding firmly to their 1 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers, who also won on Sunday afternoon.
Russell Branyan smacked his fifth home run of the season an estimated 453 feet to tie the game in the fourth inning. The blast off Pirates starter Marty McLeary on an 0-2 pitch tied for the longest in PETCO Park history with Atlanta's Andruw Jones. Branyan left Sunday's game in the sixth after being hit by a pitch on the right hand, but no injury was reported. Two innings later, catcher Josh Bard hit his ninth home run of the season to give the Padres a 2-1 lead, giving Bard a career high in homers. Bard hit his long ball off lefty reliever Juan Perez. Coming into Sunday's game, the switch-hitting Bard was hitting .305 against left-handed pitching, but he felt hadn't been as productive from the right side. He had two homers against left-handed pitching, compared to six against right-handers before Sunday's game-winner. "I was just excited to actually contribute right-handed," said Bard. "I've been really scuffling the last month and this week I thought when they came out with the rotation, they had a lefty pitching on Sunday, so just this whole week I've been preparing. "It's neat when you get to prepare and you actually see something coming out and work." The two home runs were enough for Padres starter Clay Hensley, whose maturation this season continues to impress manager Bruce Bochy. Hensley got off to a shaky start in the first, allowing two consecutive singles to lead off the game, but he struck out the next two batters. Ryan Doumit's single scored Chris Duffy for the early 1-0 lead, but the Pirates couldn't get anything else off Hensley the rest of the game. Hensley finished his day after six innings, striking out a career-high nine. The right-hander did not walk a batter. "I didn't think he had his best stuff, but he was effectively wild today at times, and he got it done," said Bochy. "He threw a lot of pitches, and he's just done a great job. He's matured as a pitcher, especially this year, staying away from big innings; and he did it again today; and we needed it. We had a tough time getting runs in, and he came through again for us." After Hensley finished the sixth, rookie reliever Cla Meredith sailed through the seventh and eighth innings, his only blemish came when he hit pinch-hitter Jeromy Burnitz in the seventh. Meredith even executed a sacrifice bunt in his first Major League plate appearance. The inning everyone was waiting for, however, was the ninth. Hensley said he found himself thinking about it on Saturday night; Sunday could be the day Hoffman passes Lee Smith on the all-time saves list. "My main focus was trying to keep it as close as possible and hand the ball to him," Hensley said. The 27-year-old Hensley did just that, handing his impressive start to the 38-year-old Hoffman, who did what he had done 478 times before Sunday. With the sellout crowd on their feet throughout the inning, Hoffman froze Doumit on strike three for the first out. It took him eight pitches, but he struck out Jose Batista swinging to come within one out of history. Pinch-hitter Freddy Sanchez, who led the National League with a .342 batting average coming into Sunday, swung on the second offering from Hoffman. The ball looked like it would hit the gap perfectly between shortstop Geoff Blum and third baseman Manny Alexander. Blum got to it, but it appeared too deep to get Sanchez in time. Then, in a stroke of luck, Sanchez stumbled on his bat coming out of the box, slowing him down enough for Blum to calmly throw him out at first. Padres players and coaches poured out of the dugout, and Hoffman was quickly mobbed on the mound. "It's amazing just thinking about the offseason -- if he would have signed with the Indians," said Bard, who was behind the plate for the historic moment. "It's unbelievable to think that it could have happened somewhere else. It needed to happen here, and I'm just excited for him and his family. He deserves it. "I really count it as one of the privileges of my career to even be able to be around Hoffy and know him and see a guy like that that's a no-doubt Hall of Famer."
Amanda Branam is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.