Padres 2, Pirates 1

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SAN DIEGO (AP)—There was no doubt for whom the heavy metal bells were tolling on Sunday—Trevor Hoffman and his 479 career saves.

The San Diego Padres’ 38-year-old closer pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning in front of a roaring crowd to become baseball’s career saves leader in a memorable 2-1 win for the NL West leaders over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As soon as NL batting leader Freddy Sanchez grounded out to shortstop, Hoffman had passed Lee Smith and the celebration was on.

Hoffman had just enough time to pump his fist before catcher Josh Bard jumped into his arms. Hoffman was soon mobbed by his teammates.

Even the Pirates stuck around, applauding from the dugout. Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy, who managed Hoffman the year he was converted from shortstop to reliever in the minor leagues, stood on the top step and clapped.

“It’s overwhelming,” Hoffman said. “It becomes a very humbling experience. It’s hard to put into words what it truly feels like.”

Leading 2-1, in their regular-season home finale, the Padres had two runners on in the eighth and could have turned it into a non-save situation. They didn’t.

With the sellout crowd of 41,932 on its feet and cheering, the 38-year-old Hoffman jogged in from the bullpen, staring at the ground the whole way, with AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” blaring, as it has for each of his home save opportunities since July 25, 1998.

Hoffman, known for his menacing glare, high leg kick and nasty changeup, opened the ninth by striking out Ryan Doumit on a changeup, then struck out Jose Bautista on a fastball.

Getting the third out was a chore.

Sanchez, who was pinch-hitting, hit a grounder past third baseman Manny Alexander to shortstop Geoff Blum.

“I saw the ball off the bat, I see Manny dive,” Hoffman said. “’… We’re going to have to get the next guy, Blummer fields it, comes up, throws, oh my! What happened? Thank goodness.”’

Fireworks went off and streamers came shooting off the Western Metal Supply Co. brick warehouse, where a banner proclaiming Hoffman’s saves total was changed to 479.

Hoffman hugged his mother, his wife, his three young boys and other family members, including brother Glenn, the Padres’ third base coach.

Padres CEO Sandy Alderson presented Hoffman with a “Hells Bells” trophy to commemorate the record save.

When Hoffman saw the Pirates applauding, he doffed his cap toward them, then placed it over his heart.

“It was a class move not only from their manager Jim Tracy being on the top step, but in talking to him, he said they wanted to do that,” Hoffman said.

“I don’t think you can really explain what it means to have your teammates run out on the field and surround you and just be a part of the moment, but also to have the opposing team to respect the way you go about your business. It was a kind gesture on their part.”

Commissioner Bud Selig called to congratulate Hoffman. The relief ace’s jersey, hat, game ball and cleats will be going to the Hall of Fame.

Hoffman grabbed another ball that was used in the game as a keepsake, as he’s done with a ball from each of his previous 478 saves.

It was his NL-best 43rd save in 48 chances.

Smith piled up 478 saves from 1980-1997. The Padres invited Smith to be in San Diego this weekend, but he had prior commitments.

Manager Bruce Bochy said he reflected back on all the times Hoffman has closed games.

“It was emotional for me,” Bochy said. “He’s such a special guy, great teammate. We all know about his talent, but as a person, they just don’t get any better.”

Hoffman’s first two career saves came as a rookie with Florida before the Padres obtained him on June 24, 1993, in what was then a hugely unpopular deal at the height of San Diego’s salary-shedding “fire sale.” The Padres gave up slugger Gary Sheffield, who won the NL batting title with San Diego the previous season.

And to think that Hoffman was booed in his first few appearances in a Padres uniform.

“I knew it was something I couldn’t change in a day,” he said.

Tracy echoed Bochy’s feelings.

“It’s a credit to him because he’s one of the finest people in the game,” said Tracy, who managed the rival Dodgers the previous five seasons. “It’s a tribute to his resiliency. It’s a tribute to his work ethic. It’s a tribute to his moxie because a not a lot of people can do what he does.”

Clay Hensley, backed by impressive home runs from Russell Branyan and Josh Bard, struck out a career-high nine in winning his third straight start for San Diego, which retained its 1 1/2 -game lead over the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers. Hensley (11-11) held the Pirates to one run and seven hits.

The Padres have won nine of 12 overall and 14 of their last 16 home games.

Bard put the Padres ahead 2-1 when he greeted reliever Juan Perez (0-1) by homering into the first row of the second deck in left field on a 1-0 pitch leading off the sixth. It was Bard’s career-high ninth.

Pittsburgh went ahead 1-0 in the first on Doumit’s two-out single.

Pittsburgh’s Marty McLeary, making his first big league start at the age of 32, allowed one run and four hits in five innings.

Notes

McLeary made three appearances with the Padres in 2004, with no decisions and a 14.73 ERA in 3 2-3 innings. … Branyan left after he was hit on a hand by a pitch from Juan Perez on the first pitch after Bard’s homer in the sixth.

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