SAN DIEGO (AP) -Trevor Hoffman considers his 500 career saves as not much more than a nice, round number that nobody else has.
Getting mobbed by his teammates and then carried off the field, however, was pretty cool.
Hoffman considered it the best possible salute when David Wells and Heath Bell hoisted him onto their broad shoulders Wednesday night after he earned his 500th save in a 5-2 win over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
``I rank it up there with the ultimate respect of how they feel,'' Hoffman said Thursday.
``It's one thing to slap you on the back and give you a hug and say, 'Good job.' But they took it one step further and pick you up and put you on their back.''
After addressing the crowd, the bullpen ace returned the gesture to his teammates during a champagne toast in the clubhouse.
``I'm really proud of some of the things he said about his teammates,'' manager Bud Black said. ``Those are the type of things you look back on and hold for a long time.''
That's Hoffman. He's never been concerned with numbers as he climbed the career saves list, other than to recognize the guys he was passing along the way.
``We have guys in this clubhouse who have accomplished great things, and I'm privileged to be part of that,'' Hoffman said. ``By the same right, our focus is other than individual accomplishments. We were in the postseason last year and got beat. We want a ring.''
Hoffman took his usual low-key approach as he neared 500 saves. To him, the big save was No. 479 on Sept. 24, which broke Lee Smith's big league career record of 478.
``It just throws, in a sense, a number out there that becomes sought after,'' Hoffman said. ``I'm respectful of the fact that it is a number that hasn't been achieved, but in the same right, it's only 22 saves beyond what Lee Smith did.''
His teammates were dazzled.
``500 saves is pretty impressive,'' said Greg Maddux, who won the 338th game of his career. ``He's raised the bar for relievers. He's taken it to a level that the game's never seen and it's up to the guys behind him to shoot for. Good luck trying to get there.''
Wells said toting Hoffman off the field was ``a gesture of an accomplishment. His teammates along the way have helped him provide that number, that plateau, but I just think it's a great gesture for a man who's been pitching for a long time. I think the fans deserved to have him go off on the shoulders.''
For once, ``Boomer'' was relatively speechless.
``I mean, I'm really in awe,'' the big left-hander said. ``I couldn't be happier for the man. It's just something that words cannot describe. It couldn't happen to a better guy.''
And to think, Hoffman had such an inauspicious start in San Diego.
The right-hander was an unknown rookie with two saves when the Padres obtained him in a controversial five-player deal on June 24, 1993. It was one of the big trades of the Padres' ``fire sale'' that summer as they jettisoned big salaries. Gary Sheffield, who won the NL batting title the season before, was the key player sent to the Marlins.
While the front office said San Diego received ``value for value,'' Hoffman was booed in each of his first three appearances as his ERA as a Padre ballooned to 18.00.
``You don't forget certain things that churn your stomach pretty good and make you think, 'What's it going to take to be successful in this game?' Those are the kind of learning curves you go through that make you stronger,'' he said.
Hoffman took a moment to mention Mark Merila, his longtime bullpen catcher who is battling a brain tumor and couldn't be at the ballpark Wednesday night.
He also said he got a message from former teammate Randy Myers, who joined the Padres following his time as one of Cincinnati's ``Nasty Boys.''
``He said, 'Keep on going. Why stop here?' It was nice to hear from him.''
Hoffman, 39, isn't ready to stop. He said hitters will eventually let him know when it's time to retire.
``When I start getting knocked around pretty good and can't get people out, it's going to be an indication to me that they are making adjustments really fast or that the writing is on the wall,'' he said.
Known for his consistency, Hoffman has saved more than 40 games in a season eight times, including his career-best 53 in 1998. He's blown only 58 of 558 chances, giving him baseball's best percentage, .896, since the blown-save rule went into effect in 1988.
``I told him they were the greatest 500 saves that I've never seen,'' said superstitious general manager Kevin Towers, who waits out the final three outs in the clubhouse rather than watching Hoffman.
Hoffman, known for his work ethic and character, said he'll let others judge whether he's had a Hall of Fame-caliber career and where he ranks among the great closers.
``However the cards do lie out, I'll feel comfortable that I never left myself with a question, 'What if I had done my work that particular day to be prepared for the ninth inning?' `` he said.

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