Now that their star closer has set a new all-time saves record, the San Diego Padres can focus on wrapping up the National League West for the second straight year.
Hoffman earned his 479th save in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Pittsburgh, passing Lee Smith to become baseball’s career saves leader. The 38-year-old right-hander was mobbed by his teammates and even got a standing ovation from the Pirates.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Hoffman, who has an NL-best 43 saves in 48 chances this season. “It becomes a very humbling experience. It’s hard to put into words what it truly feels like.”
With the win, the Padres (83-72) remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers, who beat Arizona 5-1. Josh Bard and Russell Branyan each homered for San Diego, which has won nine of 12 and wraps up its season with seven road games.
The NL Central-leading Cardinals (80-74), meanwhile, have dropped five straight and are coming off a four-game sweep at Houston that moved the second-place Astros to within 3 1/2 games of first.
St. Louis’ magic number for clinching a division title remains five.
“What we did great was we had four very tough losses and every night we came out and played,” manager Tony La Russa said. “I give our club a lot of credit for that and I have terrific respect, because that’s hard to do.”
Shortstop David Eckstein, who returned to the active roster on Sept. 15 after missing a month with a strained left oblique muscle, left in the fifth inning with a strained left hamstring.
The Cardinals, who swept the Padres in three games in a divisional playoff series last year, wrap up their season with a seven-game homestand. Their 46 home wins are third-most in the NL behind the New York Mets (50) and Los Angeles (49).
Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.07 ERA) will start for St. Louis. He allowed just six hits in seven scoreless innings of the Cardinals’ 1-0 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday, but did not receive a decision, and is 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA in his last six starts.
“He did everything he could,” La Russa said.
Suppan is 3-2 with a 6.19 ERA in six career starts against the Padres. He allowed seven runs and three homers in six innings of a 7-1 loss to them on May 26.
San Diego will counter with David Wells (0-2, 4.43), who lost his second straight start on Wednesday, allowing four runs and a season-high 11 hits— including 10 singles—in 6 1-3 innings of an 8-2 defeat to Arizona.
The 43-year-old left-hander is 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA in four starts since being acquired in an Aug. 31 trade with Boston. Wells is 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five career starts against the Cardinals, but is making his first start against them this season.