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A great pitcher, a better teammate

A great pitcher, a better teammate

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ST. LOUIS -- Ramon Hernandez doesn't think there's any argument.

"I think he's already in the Hall of Fame," the Padres catcher said of his batterymate, Trevor Hoffman.

The pitcher took a big step toward potential induction on Friday night, working a 1-2-3 ninth inning in a victory over the Cardinals to become the third player in Major League history with at least 400 saves. But Hoffman is more than just a great athlete; his teammates have come to know -- and appreciate -- him in myriad ways.

Hernandez has come to know Hoffman, the shutdown artist, as a straight shooter on and off the mound.

"He's always the same, no matter how he does in the game," Hernandez said. "He's not two different people, one type when it's going good, another type when it's bad. You're really going to get a lot of respect when you're the kind of person he is.

"He reminds me of Tim Raines -- always a smile, always the same. He comes in every day with the same attitude, very positive all the time. He's been around a long time, and he was around a lot of good people when he was young. He is all about the team. He's just a great team guy, a great teammate."

Hernandez developed an immediate rapport with the veteran right-hander after coming to the Padres last season in a deal with Oakland.

"We're always on the same page," the catcher from Venezulea said. "He agrees with whatever we're doing. He's just a very easygoing guy ... but he lets you know what he wants to do.

"Guys like Trevor, they set the way for younger guys, showing you how to do it. If you have problems, he won't ever point fingers. He takes it on himself. He's one of the leaders; he knows everyone's looking to him, how he's going to react. It's a great honor to play with someone like that."

Woody Williams has served two tours now with Hoffman in San Diego.

"More than anything, it's his dedication to being ready to pitch every time he gets the opportunity," Williams said. "Obviously, when he was younger he was throwing 92, 93 miles an hour. You don't have to think any more as you get older; you just change your approach. You have to be aware of what you have and don't have. You have to be aware of things you lose.

"He knows what his strengths are. He's got the perfect makeup for what he does. He cares but doesn't bring what happens at the park off the field. He's a good family man. ... It couldn't happen to a better person."

Hoffman has won the 2004 Hutch Award and the 2003 Roberto Clemente Award, both given for meritorious service off the field, in the community. He stands with Tony Gwynn as the most popular of all Padres in the eyes of most observers.

Davey Lopes, who has called clubhouses home for more than 30 years as a player, manager and coach, sees in Hoffman rare leadership qualities for a relief pitcher.

"It's unusual when you have a pitcher or relief pitcher who's looked upon as a leader of a ballclub," Lopes, the Padres' first-base coach, said. "From that standpoint, I don't know if I've ever seen it from a closer.

"Dennis Eckersley didn't have that kind of personality. Usually it's an everyday type player who leads a ballclub, but he's definitely looked upon as one of the leaders here. It's his performance, the respect he has of his peers and teammates.

"He's a good-natured guy, but he's vocal when he has to be. There's a purpose to everything he says and does."

Bruce Bochy feels blessed to have had Hoffman as his closer throughout his 11 years as manager of the Padres. Bochy consistently has promoted Hoffman as a Hall of Famer, putting him in a class with the great closers he's known, such as former Padres teammate Goose Gossage.

Asked if any saves in all their time together stand out above the rest, Bochy thought it over before finally concluding that his closer's best work came at the finish of the 1998 dream season. The Padres never would have made it to the postseason, never mind the World Series, without Hoffman's fairly Herculean efforts down the stretch.

"I think he pitched every game in that last series in L.A.," Bochy said. "He went out and got it done. He had to go on fumes at that point, but he had enough in his tank to clinch the division.

"He has that mentality like an everyday player. And don't forget the way he fields his position. He's saved some games for himself with his glove."

His early adventures as a Minor League infielder no doubt helped him with the glove. Hoffman also is a decent hitter -- for a pitcher, of course. If he'd have been a better hitter, the game might have been deprived of one of its greatest closers.

"What does 400 mean?" Bochy said, repeating a question. "It means a couple of things. One, it starts with his consistency over a long period of time, his durability. Another one is his work ethic. He had to come off arm surgery [in 2003]. There were questions if he'd ever be able to come back, and here he is, pitching the way he always has.

"Not a lot of closers have made the impact on a team the way Trevor has. This is biased or not biased -- he is a definite Hall of Famer, for what he's accomplished in his career at this point."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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