ST. LOUIS -- With some time to catch his breath and reflect on the events of the past few days, Trevor Hoffman was amazed how the stars and planets aligned so perfectly on Sunday, allowing him to become Major League Baseball's all-time save king at home, in San Diego, in front of family, friends and legions of admirers at PETCO Park. "For it to all come together Sunday, in the final home game of the season. ... there's a higher power working there," the Padres' closer said, grinning. He was standing in the visitors' dugout at the new Busch Stadium, not far from the spot where, last season, he reached 400 saves. The record he wrested away from Lee Smith now stands at 479, and Hoffman would love to add a few more saves before the week is over.
"While the individual part is somewhat put to bed," he said, "the focus is still there and the determination to get it done is at the top of everybody's mind." The Friars held a 1 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers in the National League West entering Monday as they prepared to face the Central Division-leading Cardinals in a three-game series loaded with postseason implications. With a 2 1/2-game edge on St. Louis, San Diego is in position to gain home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs should it hold off Los Angeles and win the West. The Cards had that edge last season and used it to take the first two games at home before completing a three-game NLDS sweep of the Padres in San Diego. But this is an entirely different Padres outfit, one deep in pitching and featuring robust offense from newcomers such as Mike Cameron, Mike Piazza, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Barfield and Josh Bard, as well as recent arrivals Russell Branyan and Todd Walker. Hoffman has maintained all season that this is a team capable of going a long way if it puts it all together, and there have been signs of it doing that in winning nine of the past 12 and going 15-7 in September. "I'm just trying to grab the baton I'm getting from the rest of the club," said Hoffman, who has been busy with six saves in the past 11 games -- and one memorable missed save opportunity in Los Angeles in the Dodgers' epic 11-10 triumph. "You look at the way we've played the last 15, 20 games, there's a playoff atmosphere to the way we've been playing," he said. "We've been getting unbelievable starting pitching, and the guys down in the 'pen have been doing a great job." Family ties: Most of Hoffman's thoughts in the immediate aftermath of his record-setting save on Sunday against the Pirates were with his team and family. Wife Tracy had the couple's three sons decked out in special "Saving 479" T-shirts. Trevor's mother, Marguerite, and brother Greg were on hand as well as brother Glenn, the Padres' third-base coach. There was some special emotion transmitted in that hug with Glenn as Trevor made the rounds with teammates in the afterglow of the 2-1 victory. "There was the approval that 8-year-old kid wanted from his big brother," said Trevor, who grew up in awe of brother Glenn's ability to play in the Major Leagues as an infielder for a decade. "My mom said, `Your daddy would have been proud,'" Trevor said. Noticing that the Marines, who regularly attend Sunday games, departed before he came on to finish the job, Trevor thought of his late father, Ed, a former Marine. "I think my dad told them he needed that section for himself," Trevor said. "Pretty neat." All about Trevor: Teammates were still savoring the magic of Hoffman's moment and the outpouring of affection directed toward the great reliever. "His consistency," Woody Williams said, asked to identify Hoffman's most enduring quality. "That's what this game is all about. It's not about who has more talent. Half of those guys with all the talent never amount to anything. "It's the ones that go out there, day in and day out and can accept the good with the bad and deal with it and come back the next day ready to do it again. He's just been unbelievable throughout his career as far as being consistent." Bard, whose homer was the difference in Sunday's game, called catching Hoffman's record-smashing effort "one of the highlights of my career. "You get to see a guy put in the work, the extra stuff and the routine and just the kind of way he prepares. To see that pay off for a guy and to see him come back through injuries and all the things that have happened to him ... the courage it takes just for him to continue to go out there and continue to come after hitters I think it's really special." Hoffman has been throwing harder than usual of late, if the speed gun readings are accurate. "Not only did he hit 90," Bard said, "he was really throwing with command. When you look at the really good ones, they can smell it. They really lock it in." Coming up: Williams (10-5, 3.53 ERA) faces his former team and Cy Young Award candidate Chris Carpenter (15-7, 2.93 ERA) Tuesday night at 5:10 p.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.