3 saves in LA to finish '96 high on Hoffman's list

Final weekend sweep gave Padres NL West title

3 saves in LA to finish '96 high on Hoffman's list

Trevor Hoffman was asked recently about saves he made that stuck out above the rest.

Certainly No. 479 on Sept. 24, 2006, when he passed Lee Smith as the all-time saves leader must be high on the list.

Then there were those milestone 500th and 600th saves of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

What about save No. 109 on June, 23, 1997, when he passed Rollie Fingers as the Padres' all-time leader in saves? Or his run of 41 consecutive save opportunities converted during the Padres' pennant-winning 1998 season?

What saves stand out in Hoffman's mind as the most significant in his career?

"Saves that stand out, not really," was Hoffman's response. "The ones that didn't go well always come to the forefront when I'm looking back on my career. I always go back to those first ... when they got me."

Since blown saves represent only 11.8 percent of his career, we pressed Hoffman on the subject. Certainly, there must be some saves that stood out above the rest.

"I view them differently than this save or that save," Hoffman said recently. "I more remember specific situations."

"Those were the times I escaped a tough situation. I'd look back and think, 'I got that one.' Then I'd dissect it a little bit. 'Where did you get in trouble? Were you relaxed? Were you prepared? How'd you get out of it?'"

So we pressed Hoffman on whether there was any stretch or series that sticks out in his mind.

The answer was yes.

"Probably those last three games of the 1996 season in Los Angeles," replied Hoffman. "Any time you had a chance to dogpile as a group was good."

The Padres and Dodgers had already clinched playoff spots when they met head-to-head at Dodger Stadium for the final three games of the 1996 season. But the Padres entered those final three games trailing the Dodgers in the race for the National League West title.

The Padres needed a three-game sweep to go into the playoffs as the National League West champions.

And sweep they did by scores of 5-2, 4-2 and 2-0. Two of the three games, including the regular-season finale, went into extra innings. And Hoffman picked up the save in all three wins -- ending the season by retiring the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the 11th on Sept. 29 after pinch-hitter Chris Gwynn broke up a scoreless tie with a two-run double in the top of the inning.

"That was a great day to be a Padre," Hoffman recalled. "We knew we were going into the playoffs no matter what happened. But we really wanted to win the division title. The Padres hadn't won a title since 1984. We had a great weekend. And at Dodger Stadium."

The saves were Hoffman's 40th, 41st and 42nd of the season. It was the first of Hoffman's nine seasons of 40 or more saves. Over the three days, Hoffman allowed one hit and two walks with four strikeouts in three scoreless innings.

But that wasn't the point.

"We won the National League West title by going into Dodger Stadium and winning the final three games of the regular season," said Hoffman. "It got better and better all weekend."

Ending in a dogpile.