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MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Hoffman secure in his place behind Rivera

Bloom: Hoffman secure in his place behind Rivera

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Hoffman secure in his place behind Rivera

MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

SAN DIEGO -- Trevor Hoffman was the all-time regular-season saves leader for nearly five years. He isn't anymore. He has been eclipsed at 602 by the Yankees' peerless Mariano Rivera.

The ultra-competitive Hoffman retired last offseason and is now working for the Padres, the team for which he played during 16 of his 18 big league seasons. He said he's content with his place in baseball history.

"Being second to Mariano Rivera, it's not like there's anything wrong with that. There is no shame in it," Hoffman told MLB.com this past weekend. "I'm happy for him. He's earned it. And I'm comfortable with where I stand."

"It affects me, but it's not about me. It's about Mo and what his accomplishments have meant to the game. I'm just proud of how he's handled his success, how he's kept the focus on his team. I met him a few times, and he seemed like a great guy. I think that's what endears him to people."

As Rivera moved toward another 40-save season, Hoffman dabbled in the Padres' front office and strode through their Minor League fields. Hoffman recorded 552 of his saves for San Diego, where his famous No. 51 was formally retired in August and now sits atop the batting eye at PETCO Park along with the digits of four other Padres: Steve Garvey, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield and Randy Jones.

The fact that he concluded his career with two seasons playing for the Brewers in Milwaukee is just a blip on the radar screen. Rivera, of course, has been a Yankee from the start, since 1995, and has one year remaining on his current contract.

Both are destined for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Hoffman perhaps as soon as the Class of 2016. Rivera? Who knows? Asked if he was surprised that Rivera has rolled on, Hoffman said:

jOINED AT THE HIP
The career stats of Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera:
  Hoffman Rivera*
Seasons 18 17
Games 1,035 1,039
Innings 1,089.1 1,209
Hits 846 933
Walks 307 274
Strikeouts 1,133 1,108
Saves 601 602
ERA 2.87 2.22
WHIP 1.058 0.999
All-Star 7 12
* Stats through Sept. 19

"Not really. His location is still very sharp, and his velocity is still up. His cutter is still cutting. He's virtually the same pitcher that he's been his whole career. That's something that hasn't happened for most people."

Hoffman became the saves leader on Sept. 24, 2006, when he shut down the Pirates at PETCO to record his 479th save and pass Lee Smith on the all-time list. His 600th came last year on Sept. 7 at Miller Park for the Brewers against the Cardinals.

He notched No. 601 on Sept. 29 against the Mets at Citi Field in what turned out to be the final appearance of his career. It was a typical Hoffman effort: three up, three down with a strikeout -- the 1,133rd of his career.

Last year, however, was a tough one for Hoffman. Pitching with soreness in his right arm during the season's first half, he lost his closer's role to rookie John Axford. Meanwhile, Rivera, now 41, just kept churning them out for the Yankees. There was a certain inevitability to the fact that Rivera would pass Hoffman.

"We kind of got [to 600] in different ways," said Hoffman, who had 15 saves in his final season, as opposed to 43 for Rivera this year. "My opportunities were hit and miss, and I wasn't in that role. He hasn't slowed down any. That's why it's happened so quick for him."

For better or worse, they are joined at the hip, two closers who recorded 600 saves in the same era, one in the American League and the other in the National. The element that's primarily different is Rivera's playoff resume: 42 saves in 15 postseasons, 11 out of 12 in the World Series.

Hoffman had only four saves in four postseasons for the Padres. Therein lies the only major degree of separation.

"To have success in the postseason, you have to get there," Hoffman said. "I wasn't able to get there as much as he. That's safe to say."

They worked at the same time, but rarely did the pair meet. Perhaps in the All-Star Game, and certainly in the 1998 World Series, when the Yankees swept the Padres, and Rivera dominated with three saves in the four games. Hoffman grew up in nearby Anaheim and makes his home in San Diego. Rivera is from Panama.

But Hoffman said he feels a connection "even though we never really got to spend much time together on a personal level."

"There's been mutual respect across the board for what we've accomplished," he added. "I've privately admired his work from afar and what he stands for as a person. Being able to do that over time has been pretty cool. As far as who's coming and whether 700 is reachable for somebody remains to be seen."

The two redefined the role and set a seemingly unattainable standard. Among active relievers, Francisco Cordero of the Reds is second behind Rivera with 323. He's 38, so 400 is probably not going to happen. Francisco Rodriguez, at 29, has 291, but currently is pitching in a setup role. And Rivera certainly isn't finished.

Hoffman and Rivera: Joined at the hip?

"I don't know. That's something for you all to figure out," Hoffman said, referring to the writers who define history. "I appreciate the fact that some people have said that each guy should stand by himself. I'm proud of the way I was able to do what I did, and I'm equally impressed at what he's been able to accomplish in his career.

"It's like having to pick Hank Aaron over Babe Ruth, and I suppose you have to put Barry [Bonds] into that conversation. It's not a situation where you have to pick one over the other."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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