Hoffman nails down Padres' victory

Hoffman nails down Padres' victory

SAN DIEGO -- By the time Trevor Hoffman slowly jogged in from the bullpen on Tuesday, a decent segment of the chilled crowd of 20,825 at PETCO Park was long gone, likely to warm themselves somewhere other than an outdoor ballpark.

But those who stayed to the end of the Padres' 2-1 victory over the Astros were certainly heard, especially in the ninth inning by, of all people, Hoffman, who has said in the past that he blocks out all noise when entering a game, everything from fan cheers to his, of course, fabled entrance music (Hell's Bells).

Not Tuesday, though, as Hoffman admitted afterwards to feeling an entirely surreal buzz from the fans who stuck around to see the Padres' second victory in as many days against the Astros.

"I think it was more than just a first appearance kind of cheer," Hoffman said. "It was a 'We're behind you ... and this is how we're going to show you.'"

Hoffman, making his first appearance at PETCO Park this season and his first appearance since that fateful night at Coors Field on Oct. 1 against the Rockies, worked a nearly flawless ninth inning that, really, was typical of many of his Major League-best 525 career saves.

Only this one felt a lot different, not just because it was his first appearance since he blew that lead against Colorado in the Wild Card play-in game, but because it was also the first save of the year for Hoffman, who showed the kind of variance between his fastball (87 mph) and changeup (76 mph) that gave opposing hitters cause for pause.

"You try not to make any particular opportunity better than others," Hoffman said. "But the first of the season is always important."

Apparently, that goes for home runs as well, as Scott Hairston -- who might be one of the few hitters not affected adversely by spacious PETCO Park -- continued to show the kind of knack for coming up with big home runs.

Hairston, who joined the Padres last July after coming over from Arizona in a trade, has six home runs in his first 48 at-bats at spacious PETCO Park, his latest coming on Tuesday when he sent a fastball from Brandon Backe (0-1) into the first row of seats in the upper deck in left field.

"I really can't explain it," Hairston said of his power surge at PETCO Park, which, in all fairness, plays fair to right-handed pull hitters, though not many other hitters. "It's very exciting to play in this ballpark. Wherever I play, I take my job seriously."

As does Padres starting pitcher Chris Young, who escaped Arizona last week after being hit in the torso with a batted ball, all while trying to shake the remnants of a nasty cold.

Young struggled at times with his command, especially to right-handed hitters and was, on several occasions, the victim of a tight strike zone by plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who didn't appear keen on calling the low strike or the one on the outside corner.

"You've got the guy that won the Cy Young last year and won the pitching triple crown," Berkman said, referring to Opening Day starter Jake Peavy. "And the guy that the last two years has the lowest batting average against in the National League. It's like hitting off the Jolly Green Giant -- like he's handing the ball to the catcher."

Young walked five over 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits with three strikeouts. The lone run he allowed was actually the result of reliever Joe Thatcher walking in a run in the sixth inning after Young loaded the bases with two hits and a walk.

"It wasn't mid-season form, but it wasn't horrible, either," Young said. "There's a lot of room for improvement. I'm not going to be satisfied with that outing. But they [Astros] made me work."

Young did work out of several tight spots on Tuesday and earned the victory, even after Thatcher allowed a run. The bullpen finished with a flurry, as Cla Meredith was able to get two ground ball outs, Heath Bell tossed a scoreless eight inning before Hoffman got his opportunity.

"That's something I saw a lot last year," Padres manager Bud Black said of Hoffman closing the door in the ninth inning.

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