AT&T Park — Back in 1996, Bruce Bochy — then the second-year manager of the San Diego Padres, without playoff experience or a hint of white hair in his signature mustache — had reason to be nervous entering the final weekend of the season. The Padres trailed the Dodgers by one game in the National League West, and they needed to sweep their Southern California rivals to claim the division.
Each game was a low-scoring affair, decided by three runs or fewer, and Bochy leaned heavily on 28-year-old closer Trevor Hoffman to get late-game outs. Hoffman responded by shutting the door three times in a row to secure the franchise’s first postseason berth in 12 seasons.
Bochy and Hoffman would go on to share many big-stage moments, with Hoffman becoming one of the league’s greatest closers for the remainder of his illustrious career. San Diego made four playoff appearances in the ensuing decade, including a trip to the 1998 World Series, but for Bochy — who expects to take the redeye to Cooperstown on Saturday night to attend Hoffman’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony — Hoffman’s work down the stretch in 1996 still sticks out.
“I have so many great memories, but first one I can think of is the three consecutive games he saved against the Dodgers to win the division that year,” said Bochy, now a three-time World Series champion manager with the San Francisco Giants. “That was just an amazing weekend there and a moment I’ll always remember with him.”
After Chris Gywnn (Tony Gwynn’s lesser-known brother) gave the Padres an 11th-inning lead over the Dodgers in the season finale with a two-run double, Hoffman entered having already pitched four of the previous five games. Despite that recent workload, Hoffman induced a fly out and ground out before striking the final batter out looking with a fastball on the inside corner to clinch the division.
Bochy had appeared anxious in the dugout during the final at-bat, but after the punch-out, he beamed while walking onto the field to join his team in celebration.
Though he’ll need to fly across the country for Sunday’s ceremony, those kinds of performances by Hoffman mean he has no problem making the long trip to see his former closer honored.
“It tells you how much this man means to me,” Bochy said. “With our relationship, I’m hopeful all goes well. … I’m thankful for the support I’ve gotten from Larry Baer and Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans to attend this.”
Hoffman finished his career with 601 saves (second-most all-time) and a 2.87 ERA. He spent most of his career with the Padres, though he also played for the Florida Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers.