SAN DIEGO (AP) - One night soon, Trevor Hoffman will pepper home plate with his remarkable changeup and unremarkable fastball, get the final out for the San Diego Padres and become the first big leaguer to reach 500 saves.
While it caused a ruckus locally when Hoffman became baseball's all-time saves leader late last season, reaching this plateau will inspire a sense of amazement among his teammates and peers.
``It's going to be awesome to see that five-zero-zero up on that board,'' Padres starter David Wells said. ``I'm just going to stare at him and see how he takes it in.''
Greg Maddux, the Padres' other elder statesman, thinks it'll be pretty cool, too.
``He's raising the bar, isn't he?'' Maddux said. ``He's just going somewhere that no one's ever been. I think he's going to change it for closers behind him, give them something to shoot for.''
Hoffman, of course, doesn't think it's a big deal. A laid-back surfer dude at heart, he'll probably just go about his routine and treat it as another day at the ballyard, as he has since he got his first save as a rookie in 1993 with the expansion Florida Marlins.
With 15 saves in 17 chances this season, Hoffman is at 497 as the Padres open a three-game series at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, then play three at Washington.
``In reality, is it much different than 479?'' Hoffman said during the weekend. ``I mean, it's a number that's still exceeding the second person, but because it has a different number at the beginning and zeros, it becomes maybe more ominous.
``I understand the difference. But I don't think there really should be a whole lot of hoopla surrounding it. I'm not trying to downplay it. I'm not trying to minimize the accomplishment by any means, but 479's kind of the transition number, I thought.''
Hoffman reached 479 on Sept. 24, breaking Lee Smith's big league record and setting off a rocking celebration at Petco Park.
``I'm not looking to stop at 500, to be honest with you,'' the 39-year-old Hoffman said. ``I'm trying to do my due diligence and remain productive. It's a progression. I also understand the place in history that it stands for. I'm breaking a new barrier and I'm respectful of that. I'm respectful of the guys I've passed along the way.''
Hoffman has a fan in the guy he vaulted to get to the top of the list.
``I hope Trevor gets a little more respect than he's getting,'' Smith said in a phone interview. ``500 saves, it's unbelievable. I'm glad to see someone bring a little more light onto the reliever's role.''
Even when Hoffman broke Smith's record there was grumbling from some quarters that the save is a cheap stat.
``I don't remember any easy saves,'' Smith said.
With Hoffman approaching such a nice round number, it begs the question: Does 500 saves compare with, say, 500 homers?
``Well, nobody's gotten 500 saves,'' said Maddux, who has 337 career wins. ``A lot of people have 500 homers. He's setting the bar.''
Wells agrees.
``You've got to be around a long time to get that many home runs, and you've got to be around a long time, obviously, to get that many save opportunities,'' the lefty said. ``They're there to save us, to get us wins. They're just as valuable as anybody else's home runs, as anybody else's wins. By far.''
Said Brewers left fielder Geoff Jenkins: ``It's way more than 500 homers.''
Jenkins noted that Hoffman has continued to thrive because of his wicked changeup. Hoffman's fastball tops out at about 88 mph.
``He's got the Nintendo change,'' said Jenkins, a friend and admirer of the closer. ``It's a video game changeup.''
Jenkins isn't sure if anyone else will have the longevity to catch Hoffman and whatever number he finishes with.
``I don't think it makes 300 saves look bad,'' Jenkins said. ``That's still a pretty awesome number for somebody. But 500, that's an insane number.''
Hoffman, of course, has proven to be human. He blew the save in last year's All-Star Game, and earlier this season blew saves in consecutive appearances, the second one coming on Trevor Hoffman Night, against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, of all teams.
``It's almost like you don't even think of him having a tough outing because he's so good at rebounding the next time he's out there,'' said Oakland's Mike Piazza, who's both victimized Hoffman as an opponent and caught him as a teammate. ``He always wants the ball. That's the reason why he is what he is.''
A Hoffman save opportunity has become a ritual in San Diego, with the bullpen ace trotting to the mound accompanied by AC/DC's ``Hells Bells'' and a light show on the scoreboards. Naturally, fans were taken aback on Friday night when, in a save situation, Metallica's ``Enter Sandman'' started playing and Scott Linebrink jogged out instead of Hoffman.
It turned out that Hoffman's arm was ``cranky'' after he made three appearances in the previous four games, and the Padres were just being careful. Hoffman got saves Saturday night and Sunday as the Padres swept the Brewers.
Hoffman's 497 saves have come in 555 chances (.895). He had no saves in 2003 as he recovered from double shoulder surgery the previous winter.
Bruce Bochy remains an admirer even though he jumped from the Padres to manage the rival San Francisco Giants in the offseason.
``What's intriguing about Trevor is he has never changed - his personality, his routine, his approach to the game and being the teammate he is,'' said Bochy, who enjoyed the comfort level of having Hoffman as his closer in San Diego for so many years.
``He's going to the Hall of Fame,'' Bochy said. ``If not the greatest, he's in the top two closers of all time.''
While Hoffman eschews the attention, his teammates don't. A few seasons ago, starter Adam Eaton wrote ``500 or Bust'' on a ``Trevor Time'' giveaway T-shirt and began keeping a running tally of the closer's saves in Sharpie.
With Eaton gone, trainer Todd Hutcheson keeps the tally, breaking out a new shirt each season.
The Padres presented Hoffman with a commemorative bell after he broke Smith's record.
Wells has a better idea for this plateau.
``Let's just hope that the Padres step up and maybe buy him a Ferrari this time,'' Wells said. ``Five hundred saves is a nice Ferrari or something that's out of this world.''
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco and David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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