Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Braves’

If the date would have been April 1, no sane individual would have believed the deal.

But it was the afternoon of Easter Sunday and I’ve never heard of the Easter Bunny making up bogus baseball deals.

So it defied logic when you initially heard that the San Diego Padres acquired standout closer Craig Kimbrel from the Atlanta Braves for two clunkers, two prospects and a draft pick. You know, because you typically have to give up at least one bona fide player for a dominating All-Star who is just entering his prime.

Suddenly the Padres have a real closer – sorry Joaquin Benoit, you are an eighth-inning guy as I’m pretty sure David Ortiz’s blast off you is still sailing. Solidifying the back end of the bullpen makes winning the National League West a real possibility.

The Padres had to take strikeout-machine Melvin Upton Jr. in the deal – he’s the brother of solid-hitting Justin Upton – but gave Atlanta some of its own trash in clunkers Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin.

The Braves obtained pitching prospect Matt Wisler and whether or not he pans out will determine whether they received something of value in the deal. The baseball world is full of prospects who never lived up to their billing or even reached the majors so that is quite a gamble when you are giving up one of the top two closers in the game (Kansas City’s Greg Holland being the best).

Kimbrel has 185 saves over the past four seasons so Padres general manager A.J. Preller is again proving to be a magical trader as a first-year GM. The offseason haul included the offseason acquisitions of outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks and the signing of starting pitcher James Shields as a free agent.

It is a weird feeling to know the Padres are entering the season with a solid chance of making the National League playoffs and also a candidate to win the NL West. It is quite the transformation from last season’s horrid hitting squad.

It is hard to understand what the Braves were thinking by dealing Kimbrel but you can tell general manager John Hart is worried about the reactions of the players. He told reporters that either himself or manager Fredi Gonzalez will explain the situation to the players and answer questions prior to Monday’s season opener.

When you have to hold a meeting to explain a trade, you’re not in a position of strength.

But the Padres certainly are – a glaring hole has been filled in a most surprising manner and nothing but optimism reigns heading into Monday’s opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Because Sunday they pulled off the equivalent of showing up at the car dealer with a Tonka Toy and trading it for a Rolls Royce.

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I wasn’t thrilled that two more wild-card teams were added to baseball’s postseason when the decision was made and my feelings were only enhanced by Friday’s proceedings.

Oh no, I have no issue that the Texas Rangers were ousted in the lame one-game format. A team that tanked that badly over the final nine games of the regular season deserves to be sent packing early.

Texas gagged a five-game lead over the Oakland Athletics to lose the American League West title and looked just as lethargic while falling to the Baltimore Orioles in the winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home format.

But the National League wild-card game reinforced the sour taste I felt when baseball first announced a one-game playoff format. The botched infield fly call in the eighth inning was dreadful and who knows what happens if that call isn’t made and the Atlanta Braves’ momentum in that moment isn’t derailed.

Yes, I am fully aware the Braves left runners on base all game long and certainly could’ve squandered that opportunity as well. And yes, the St. Louis Cardinals played a better all-around game, particularly when you think of those appalling Atlanta infield throws that pretty much looked like throwing-challenged Steve Sax was playing third base, shortstop and second base for the Braves.

The one-game playoff leaves no room for error and the horrible call by left-field umpire Sam Holbrook that prevented Atlanta from having the bases loaded with one out in the eighth reinforced the notion that the format isn’t a fair one for teams who fight 162 games to earn a postseason spot.

To me, if you can’t play a three-game playoff series – and Major League Baseball rightly concluded it wouldn’t be fair to have division championships wait around five or six days to finally play – then the old format should have been retained.

Holbrook’s call was brutal – no other way around it despite his postgame comments stating that the other five umpires agreed with his ruling. In that case, “Three Blind Mice” needs to be doubled to “Six Blind Mice” immediately.

The play definitely required more than “ordinary effort” by Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma for him to even be remotely close to the ball and it was no surprise to me that Kozma pulled away from catching it at the last moment.

You know, he was in LEFT FIELD and we see middle infielders defer to outfielders all the time on similar plays.

But Holbrook decided to invoke the infield fly rule – a very late call at that – just as the ball hit by Andrelton Simmons was about to drop in between Kozma and Matt Holliday. The replays from the third-base side were particularly alarming – if the ball made it as far as the left-field umpire, the ump should pretty much have a clue that isn’t an infield fly under any scope of the rule.

Remember, the rule is to prevent an infielder from purposely letting a ball fall and turning a double play. Yeah, so what double play were the Cardinals possibly going to pull off in that situation?

Sadly, it turned out that only Holbrook’s judgment – flawed or not – mattered in the situation as MLB executive vice president Joe Torre denied the Braves’ protest. I would love to see video of Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez’s face when Torre explained that the call was proper.

You could almost hear NFL replacement referees all over the country cackling over that call.

Again, I’m not going to say the Braves would’ve won the game. But you never like to see an umpire make an absurd call like that in such an important situation. The call was so brutal that the passive Atlanta fans transformed into Oakland Raiders’ fans and littered the field with bottles and other projectiles, forcing a 19-minute delay.

I do like the comment Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made afterwards when discussing the play.

“Our guys would’ve made it a whole lot easier if they’d made the play,” Matheny said.

Bingo. And baseball could’ve made things a lot easier if they hadn’t decided to add two wild-card spots.

The final day of the 2011 season was the most dramatic final day in baseball history. The Tampa Bay Rays made a sensational rally to defeat the New York Yankees to get into the playoffs. The Baltimore Orioles stunned Boston with a superb effort and knocked the Red Sox out of the postseason. And Atlanta fell in 13 innings to the Philadelphia Phillies to miss the playoffs and allow the Cardinals into the field.

This season, there wasn’t a repeat of the unprecedented drama due to enlarging the field. I didn’t like the idea when it was hatched and I dislike it even more now.

Having 10 total teams and requiring four of them to play in a one-game, wild-card format is a bad call. Not quite as bad as Holbrook’s call but a poor one indeed.

I’ve been watching baseball since I was a little kid and I’ve never seen a more incredible night of action than what occurred on the final night of the 2011 season.

Baseball turned into the NCAA basketball tournament for a night with memorable endings, fantastic comebacks and final-out drama.

It was the best reality show possible in an era filled with bad reality shows.

The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves let ninth-inning leads get away and will be watching the postseason on television – if they can stand watching and hearing reminders about the historic September playoff dashes by the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Rays staged the largest comeback in major-league history, overcoming a nine-game September deficit to overtake the Red Sox. St. Louis delivered the second-largest recovery, overcoming an 8 1/2-half game September deficit to the Braves.

The Cardinals beat the Houston Astros earlier Wednesday night so the Braves knew they needed a win to avoid the epic collapse and force a one-game playoff. But rookie closer Craig Kimbrel had a ninth-inning meltdown and the Philadelphia Phillies won in 13 innings to send the Braves home.

Atlanta went 9-18 in September, a horrible record unworthy of a playoff spot. Good night now, Braves.

Meanwhile, Boston was one strike away from winning before collapsing against one of baseball’s worst teams. Adding to the drama was that the Red Sox were 77-0 at protecting late-inning leads.

The hapless Baltimore Orioles strung together three straight hits to score twice with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Boston. Closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out the first two hitters before the pressure got to him and he gave up back-to-back doubles to blow the save. Baltimore’s Robert Andino then stroked the game-winning hit in front of Boston’s Carl Crawford, who showed off his weak arm with a powder-puff toss home.

The Red Sox went 7-20 in September, a pathetic mark for a team with one of baseball’s highest payrolls. Sayonara, Boston.

Just four minutes after Boston’s loss, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria hit a game-winning 12th-inning homer to send Tampa Bay into the playoffs. Longoria’s blast climaxed a rally from a 7-0 eighth-inning deficit against the New York Yankees.

Tampa Bay was one strike away from losing in the ninth until light-hitting Dan Johnson (.108 average) hit a game-tying homer. It was Johnson’s second homer of the season and his first hit since April 27.

In short, Tampa Bay – like St. Louis – played itself into the postseason in addition to providing an ending that will be forever chronicled in baseball history books.

The sad thing is Wednesday’s terrific night of baseball might never again be duplicated. All because of the short-sightedness of commissioner Bud Selig.

Selig has been trying to drum up support to expanding the baseball postseason by two teams to 10. It is a horrible idea that waters down the playoffs in search of more revenue streams.

It also creates some logistical issues per the fact that there would be a play-in round in each league. That is completely silly when you factor in baseball plays a 162-game regular season.

But you know how the greed factor works in sports – just study what is going on in college athletics right now – so it won’t surprise me if Selig is eventually successful in getting approval for the plan.

Gauging reactions from baseball fans, they hate expanding the postseason similar to how college basketball fans felt when a 96-team NCAA tournament was proposed. There is no reason to mess with a system that is working fine and the eight-team baseball season works perfectly.

Imagine this, if baseball had a 10-team postseason this season, last night doesn’t even happen. The 10 playoff teams would have all been set in stone and every major-league game on the schedule would have been meaningless – kind of like every game on the Kansas City Royals’ schedule.

That would have meant no final-game drama and no momentum heading into the postseason. A .108 hitter named Dan Johnson doesn’t become a hero. Instead, there are 30 major-league teams meandering through games with lineups filled with Dan Johnsons.

Everybody has been talking baseball all day because of what a stellar night Wednesday was for the sport. For once baseball isn’t being overshadowed on a Thursday by the upcoming college and pro football lineup of games.

If Selig’s crazy plan goes through, there may never be another baseball night like this again in my lifetime. That would be sad and not for me on a personal level.

It would be sad because baseball desperately needs more drama like what was supplied last night. Not less.

I was certainly glad to see the San Diego Padres retire Trevor Hoffman’s number on Sunday.

Hoffman not only finished his career as the all-time saves leader in major-league history but he was a class act during his 15-plus years with the Padres.

Hoffman is the fifth player who played for the Padres to have his number (51) retired. The other retired numbers are 6 (Steve Garvey), 19 (Tony Gwynn), 31 (Dave Winfield) and 35 (Randy Jones).

Gwynn is the only player in franchise history who can rightfully claim to be more popular than Hoffman.

One assignment I’ve never forgotten during my award-winning journalism career was the day my boss told me to head to then-Jack Murphy Stadium and get fan reaction when the Padres traded reigning batting champion Gary Sheffield to the Florida Marlins on June 24, 1993.

It was part of a franchise-stripping fire sale ordered by the disastrous ownership group headed by Tom Werner. Fans at “The Murph” were irate and I didn’t encounter one single person who even minutely approved of the Sheffield deal.

Inflaming the disapproval was that then-general manager Randy Smith insisted the trade was one of “value for value.” That boast earned Smith the nickname of “Pinocchio.”

One of the three nobodies the Padres received in that trade was Trevor Hoffman.

That afternoon’s game was one of the most surreal sporting events I’ve ever attended. It was a brutally ugly scene and the frustration only grew the next month when reigning home-run champ Fred McGriff was traded to the Atlanta Braves.

The emotions eventually died down as Hoffman emerged as an All-Star closer and Sheffield went on to be a high-priced bundle of trouble for many other teams.

Hoffman became one of the more-popular players in franchise history and his ninth-inning entrance to the tune of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” became known as “Trevor Time.” The entrance became the most-anticipated event of any game in which the Padres entered the late innings with a lead.

His high leg kick and devastating change-up set him apart, as did an insatiable work ethic. But most of all, Hoffman just kept saving games while being a classy representative of the franchise.

Hoffman was a seven-time All-Star with nine seasons of 40 or more saves. His top season was 1998 when he had a 1.48 earned-run average and was 53-for-54 in save opportunities while helping the Padres reach the World Series for one of just two times in the franchise’s woeful history.

Hoffman should have a Cy Young Award on his mantle but was shafted by some clueless baseball writers who felt relievers shouldn’t be considered for the award. He finished second to Atlanta’s Tom Glavine in the 1998 balloting despite having more first-place votes (13 to 11) than Glavine.

He was left off a staggering six ballots and lost a close vote to Glavine.

Hoffman finished his career with 601 saves and spent his final two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. The original parting of the ways between Hoffman and the Padres was acrimonious but Hoffman rejoined the organization in a front-office role prior to the current season.

The city of San Diego doesn’t have any major-league professional team titles to boast about – sorry, I’m not going to count the San Diego Sockers’ indoor titles – and the list of memorable players would include more Chargers than Padres.

But there’s no disputing that Trevor Hoffman is one of the most memorable sports figures – both as a player and person – in San Diego sports history.

And to think he was booed mercilessly the first time he took the mound as a member of the Padres. Good thing Smith requested Hoffman as one of the players for Sheffield.

Funny how things work out sometimes.

It’s a Saturday night in mid-August and once again pro football is overshadowing baseball.

It doesn’t seem to matter that none of these NFL games count or that baseball’s pennant races are heating up.

According to Yahoo!, the top “Trending Now” topic is “NFL preseason.” The only other sports item in the top 10 is golf’s PGA Championship.

Even back-to-school shopping is in the top five.

Baseball is just nowhere to be found.

The Angels’ Jered Weaver getting torched by the Toronto Blue Jays doesn’t resonate as much as Cam Newton playing in his first NFL (fake) game for the Carolina Panthers. The Cincinnati Reds resorted back to their “Big Red Machine” days of the 1970s with seven homers against the San Diego Padres but Andy Dalton’s lackluster debut as Bengals quarterback is receiving more attention.

Even Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs acting like a fool – oh wait, he’s pulled this moron act before – doesn’t come close to being as hot a discussion topic as whether or not Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has the moxie to lead a team to a Super Bowl title.

Four of baseball’s six divisions have close races going in which the second-place team is three games or less behind the leader. Only the Philadelphia Phillies have a comfortable enough cushion – 8 1/2 games over the Atlanta Braves – to where it would be a surprise if they don’t win the National League East.

But I’m guessing there’s probably been more talk about all the moves the Eagles have made since the NFL lockout ended than the Phillies’ quest to reach the World Series for the third time in four years. Surely, the Atlanta Falcons are outdueling the Braves for attention after going 13-3 during the 2010 season.

Remember, I spent most of life in San Diego and the Padres – even when they have good teams – are always trumped by the San Diego Chargers once training camp opens.

When I covered the Chargers, it would amaze me that upwards of 3,000 fans would flock to the team facility on a hot day to watch a practice. I covered college and pro football teams as a beat reporter for 15 straight years and can assure you there are few things more boring than watching a team practice.

You have to do it because it’s part of the job and you never know when some major news is lurking. But it’s hardly glamorous duty.

The preseason games – NFL teams hate to hear the word “exhibitions” attached to them – are meaningless expect for the few players truly fighting for a roster spot. But NFL fans keep paying attention to them and shelling out major dollars to attend so team owners are only too happy to carry on the notion that the preseason is necessary.

Remember, I kept maintaining the NFL would solve the labor issue before teams lost preseason gate receipts. Funny how an agreement magically came together right as the preseason arrived.

Trust me, it isn’t a coincidence.

There’s really nothing baseball can do about this. Football is a more popular sport.

Fans would rather watch Shawne Merriman do the “Lights Out” dance for the Buffalo Bills, discuss how Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth will fit in with the New England Patriots or fret over Chris Johnson’s holdout with the Tennessee Titans and worry about how it will affect the order they list running backs per the upcoming fantasy football drafts.

As for baseball, it will get the proper amount of attention when the postseason arrives in October but it just can’t compete with football.

Even exhibitions that don’t count are higher on the interest list with most sports fans than important regular-season baseball games.

Sad but true.

Trust me, there isn’t a single player, coach or high-ranking executive of the San Diego Padres feeling good today about the surprising 90-win season in 2010.

The day after the season ended with the Padres looking up at the San Francisco Giants in the National League West and at the Atlanta Braves in the NL wild-card race will be a day filled with sadness and frustration. That is how it works with elite athletes and competitive professionals – as well it should.

Players will think about a clutch situation in which they failed to come through (like Miguel Tejada in the seventh inning on Sunday) or recall poor location on a pitch (how could Jonathan Sanchez ever triple against Mat Latos?) or getting swept by a bad team (Arizona’s three-game sweep during the Padres’ late-season 10-game losing skid was a killer).

They’ll think about 100 other things. Some big, some small. Some that occurred in the ninth inning, others that transpired in the early innings.

All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit 31 homers and 101 RBIs but will be thinking about some of the times he didn’t come through in the clutch. All-Star closer Heath Bell converted his last 34 save opportunities but he’ll think about his only loss of the season – coming against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 30.

In fact, every member of the Padres will think about the Cubs – a lot – as San Diego scored just five runs while losing three of four to Chicago in the final week of the season.

Manager Bud Black will think about some moves that didn’t work – temporarily forgetting that he pushed the right buttons with an offensively challenged team more often than not. I’m thinking Dusty Baker of the Cincinnati Reds will probably win NL Manager of the Year honors but Black surely did just as good a job as Baker.

Gritty second baseman David Eckstein will think about the error … um, check that, the pesky Eckstein didn’t commit a single error all season. Not one bobbled grounder or bad throw for the converted shortstop. That’s amazing.

Same goes for everybody on the roster and coaching staff. They’ll beat themselves up a lot this week and will struggle to turn on the television in October with the baseball postseason being a constant reminder about how they came up short.

Everyone in the organization will reminisce about having a 6 1/2-game lead with five weeks to play and coming up empty in terms of the postseason.

But when the calendar turns to November and spring training emerges on the horizon, the Padres will eventually be able to take pride in what they accomplished. They were supposed to be like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals – teams just playing a schedule with no chance of being competitive. They were supposed to unload Gonzalez and Bell for young, cheap players even though they already had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

What they weren’t supposed to do was being in position to compete for a playoff spot on the final game of the season.

General manager Jed Hoyer needs to spruce up the offense this offseason if the Padres want to be back in contention in 2011. There was a lot to like about the effort and competitiveness of the 2010 Padres but it will be hard for this team to be part of next year’s postseason without some upgrades. Gonzalez needs some help and the Padres need to keep the hometown star in town despite him being eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.

But here is what will eventually sink in: This collection of players picked to be among the worst teams in the majors just produced the fourth-best record (90-72) in the franchise’s 42-year history.

Yeah, it doesn’t feel good on October 4 – nor should it – but it will someday be recalled as one of the more remarkable seasons in San Diego Padres history.

The National League All-Star team selections display there is still little respect for the San Diego Padres, the team with the best record in the league.

The Padres had one measly player (first baseman Adrian Gonzalez) selected Sunday despite leading their division (NL West) by a greater margin than any other NL team. And remember, the Padres were pegged as preseason cellar dwellers.

At some point, you would think some smart baseball men would check the standings.

But apparently Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn’t keep track of things on the Western half of the United States. If he did, he’d see the Padres lead the majors in earned-run average (3.05) and shutouts (12) and that one of the San Diego pitchers (Mat Latos) has been the hardest pitcher in baseball to hit against (.193 average against) over the first half of the season.

It makes no sense that zero pitchers from the most productive pitching staff in baseball aren’t good enough to help the National League win an All-Star game. But since the NL hasn’t won the game since 1996, perhaps the American League just does a better job of getting the right players on the roster.

Latos (9-4, 2.62) has a WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) of 0.96 with the only other NL starting pitcher under 1.00 being Florida Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who deservedly is on the All-Star team. Seattle Mariners lefty Cliff Lee (0.95) is the only starter with a lower WHIP.

And it’s not like the NL ran out of pitching rosters spot – they have 13 pitchers on the squad. As recently as 2002, only 10 pitchers made the team.

It’s a slap in the face to the Padres and manager Bud Black that either Latos or closer Heath Bell didn’t make the squad. Bell leads the majors with 23 saves.

Who knows, perhaps Manuel is still upset over being the losing manager in last year’s All-Star game. Bell was the relief pitcher who suffered the loss.

Bell is one of five players up for the final NL roster spot, which will be decided by online fan voting. The problem is there is an even bigger omission that needs to be solved by the fans.

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is one of the leading NL MVP candidates and he somehow isn’t on the team.

Votto was batting .312 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs when the rosters were announced and then took over the NL homers lead on Monday by hitting two against the New York Mets. It’s not a collection of All-Stars if Votto isn’t on the NL roster.

First base is always a tough position for All-Star managers because there are more quality players than All-Star rosters. So I get that it wasn’t easy.

But Manuel’s explanation for what happened is sad. He picked his own first baseman, star power hitter Ryan Howard for this reason: “He’s my guy. My player. My guy.”

Perhaps Manuel didn’t get the memo that it’s the entire National League playing in the game, not the Phillies.

Something tells me that $50,000 All-Star bonus that will be deposited in Howard’s bank account came into play.

Votto surely should have been on the squad before Atlanta Braves utilityman Omar Infante, who has barely started half the Braves’ games and has nine extra-base hits all season.

Remember, this is supposed to be an All-Star game.

As for the American League, the biggest surprise to me was Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver being omitted. Weaver (8-3, 2.82) leads the majors with 124 strikeouts. He also could have 12 to 14 wins as he has made six nonwinning starts in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer.

Factor in that the game is in his home ballpark – Angel Stadium in Anaheim – and you would figure there would be a spot for him on the squad. Torii Hunter is the only Angels player on the squad.

It’s always a sad thing when a once-elite baseball player who is headed to the Hall of Fame hangs on just a season too long.

No, were not talking about the Seattle Mariners’ sleeping swinger in Ken Griffey (besides, Griffey has hung on three years too long). We’re talking about Trevor Hoffman, one of the top all-time closers in baseball history.

The former shutdown bullpen ace of the San Diego Padres now pitches batting practice in the ninth inning of baseball games. That’s a really bad thing since the Milwaukee Brewers somehow continue to send him to the mound in games they are leading.

The Brewers have the second-worst record in the National League and Hoffman blew his fifth save of the season on Tuesday afternoon as he single-handedly let a 4-2 lead turn into a 5-4 loss to the red-hot Cincinnati Reds.

Hoffman faced five batters and didn’t retire any of them as his earned-run average rose to 13.15. Yes, not 3.15 or even a porous 5.15, but a sickening-high 13.15.

You can’t last in a Sunday beer-drinking softball league with those numbers but somehow Milwaukee keeps calling on Hoffman to protect leads when it’s clear the soon-to-be 43-year-old hurler has nothing left in the tank.

Since Milwaukee manager Ken Macha doesn’t seem to want to put an end to this mess, perhaps it’s time for Hoffman to put an end to it by announcing his retirement.

Milwaukee is going nowhere at 15-24 and Hoffman has no trade value so why prolong this type of agony for another four-plus months?

Trevor Time needs to end now.

Hoffman is just four saves away from becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to record 600 career saves and it would have been nice to have seen him reach that total. It seemed like a given two short months ago when you factor in that he had an outstanding season last year – a 1.83 ERA and 37 saves.

But there are a lot of innings in that arm of his and pitchers in their 40s don’t always have a slow decline. Hoffman’s fastball isn’t so fast and the slower it gets, the less difference in speed between the fastball and Hoffman’s once-devastating change-up.

His 2010 stats are so uncharacteristic of his career norms. Opposing hitters are batting .356 against Hoffman – his career mark is .210 – and he’s allowed seven homers already this season after giving up just two all of last season.

Overall, he’s allowed 19 earned runs and 21 hits in 13 innings this season. Did I already say batting practice?

This is a guy that once allowed just 41 hits all season in 73 innings for the Padres. That was Hoffman’s epic 1998 season when he had a microscopic 1.48 ERA and saved 53 games in 54 opportunities for only the second San Diego squad to reach the World Series.

Hoffman got shafted out of the National League Cy Young Award that season because some of the baseball writers who vote on the award didn’t feel the honor should go to a reliever and left him off their ballots. Hoffman finished second behind Atlanta Braves left-hander Tom Glavine despite receiving more first-place votes (13 to 11) than Glavine.

Hoffman has always been a class guy with a heavy amount of respect for the game of baseball. He is revered in San Diego for both the type of player and person he is and rightfully so.

He has accomplished a lot and shouldn’t have to sweat out a Hall of Fame honor like Lee Smith (478 saves) is currently doing or like Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter had to do. Hoffman and New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera are Hall of Fame locks.

But in May of 2010, the once-brilliant closer who excited crowds in San Diego with his entrance to AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” needs to do some bell-ringing of his own.

It is time for Trevor Hoffman to call it a career – before the Milwaukee Brewers eventually have to do it for him.

One of the great things about baseball is you never really know what might happen on a given day.

Take the crazy 20-inning game between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, a one-of-a-kind game that had to share top billing with a first-time occurrence – Ubaldo Jimenez throwing the first no-hitter in Colorado Rockies history.

I drew the Mets-Cardinals coverage assignment and was thrilled it was an afternoon game. Started thinking about a rare Saturday night off to where I could perhaps catch a first-round NBA playoff game (wow, that sounds desperate) after my work was filed.

But that 6-hour, 53-minute baseball game had other plans for me. Goodbye Saturday night off.

While the Mets and Cardinals were using 19 pitchers – the list includes St. Louis position players Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather – Jimenez was in the process of throwing a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves.

I recall attending Jimenez’s second major-league victory, which came on August 15, 2007 against the San Diego Padres. My buddy, his child and I had no idea who the 23-year-old dude was that was matching San Diego’s Chris Young with zeroes on the scoreboard.

Jimenez was dominating in six innings of work at Petco Park, allowing just one hit while striking out nine. It was the sign of the potential he has since begun to reach. Jimenez won 12 games the following year and 15 games last season and is now moving closer to being considered as one of the better starting pitchers in the National League.

His no-hitter on Saturday night had the typical superb no-hitter-saving defensive play. Center fielder Dexter Fowler raced into the left-center field gap to make a diving catch of Troy Glaus’ hard-hit shot to save the no-hitter. It was classic to see Jimenez’s “wow” reaction to Fowler’s amazing play.

Meanwhile, the Mets and Cardinals kept doing everything they could not to score runs. The Mets didn’t even get their second hit of the game until the 12th inning and the Cardinals failed to score with the bases loaded in the 10th, 12th and 14th innings.

St. Louis ran itself out a chance to win in the 16th when Ryan Ludwick ran through a stop sign at third and tried to score from second on an infield out.

Finally, the Mets push across a run in the top of the 19th on Jeff Francoeur’s sacrifice fly. And wouldn’t you know it – Yadier Molina singles in Albert Pujols to tie the score in the bottom of the inning.

New York again scored on a sacrifice fly in the 20th, this time by Jose Reyes, and St. Louis had two on with two out when Ludwick grounded out to end the marathon.

Such a crazy game – one that should keep Cardinals manager Tony La Russa up most of the night questioning a few of his silly strategic maneuvers that twice had relief pitchers batting with the bases loaded in addition to  running out of pitchers, something that didn’t happen to the Mets.

These two contests rendered everything else that happened Saturday to mere footnotes. Things like Alex Rodriguez (584) passing Mark McGwire to move into eighth-place on the all-time home run list; Pat Burrell’s 12th inning two-run homer to give the Tampa Bay Rays the win over the Boston Red Sox; the two-run ninth-inning game-winning single by Oakland’s Ryan Sweeney that dropped Baltimore to 1-11, and Tim Lincecum’s dynamic performance (six shutout innings pitching; three hits and three RBIs swinging the bat) in San Francisco’s rout over Los Angeles were barely talked about.

For good reason too – this baseball Saturday already had enough games in starring roles.

Now let’s see what happens on Sunday.

What was that I said about the San Diego Padres after they scored 17 runs on Monday?

Something about how they could quickly revert back to their hitless wonders form (apologies to the 1906 Chicago White Sox).

In their first game after pounding the Atlanta Braves into submission, the Padres got all of six hits against Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson and three relievers while suffering a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Wednesday night at Petco Park.

So much for the momentum of swinging bats hotter than charcoal left on the grill too long. The Padres were suddenly back to normal – that means swinging bats more frigid than a penguin in Antarctica.

At 3-5, the Padres face a must-win game on Thursday if they ever expect to be at .500 again this season. The problem is Atlanta will be pitching Tim Hudson, who has yet to lose to the Padres in six career starts against them.

Yeah, that NL basement the Padres are sharing with the Los Angeles Dodgers right now will likely be coming with an eviction note. Dodgers, you now live upstairs. Move it.

You really have to feel for Padres manager Bud Black. He’s an above-average manager who keeps getting better. He’s a great people person who relates well to players. He knows pitching.

But I fear the Padres are going to eventually have to use him as a scapegoat at some point as their losing ways begin to mirror the football program at Black’s alma mater – those dreadful San Diego State Aztecs.

Remember, the Padres have a new general manager in young turk Jed Hoyer, who I believe just began high school. And in an economic market where a bona fide slugger like Jermaine Dye is still sitting at home, the Padres signed a 42-year-old pinch hitter named Matt Stairs and decided to have a Hairston Brothers reunion (Scott and Jerry Jr.).

That leaves overmatched Kyle Blanks (.207) in the clean-up role when the sixth spot in the order would be the right place for him. Blanks has six RBIs but five came in Monday’s game. He left a whooping seven runners on base Wednesday.

Here’s how anemic the Padres are: Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is batting .367 and has just five RBIs. Fifth-place hitter Chase Headley is batting .424 and has just two RBIs.

Of course, the Padres start three eighth-place hitters most nights (ninth-place hitters if they were an American League team) in shortstop Everth Cabrera (.229), second baseman David Eckstein (.214) and center fielder Tony Gwynn (.143).

When Will Venable, currently in his first full major-league season, is your third-best offensive player, you know you have hitting deficiencies.

So the up-and-down pattern of scoring 17 runs one game and a puny one the next is probably going to be something associated all year with the 2010 Padres. When ownership doesn’t provide enough bats to get the job done, scratching out every single run you can is harder than getting Barry Bonds to admit he was juiced when he hit 73 homers and his head swelled to the size of Mars.

From Sweet 17 to one-run wonders in the span of a game. Not exactly the sign of a team that won’t be spending the majority of summer looking up at all its NL West partners.

Meanwhile, a guy who hit 27 homers last season and has 10 20-homer seasons to his credit sits at home. The fact that the Padres haven’t attempted to add Jermaine Dye to their roster speaks to the real truth – no full commitment to winning.

They gave Jim Edmonds a chance two years ago after Edmonds had just 12 homers for the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals. What do have they have against Dye?

I got some advice – sign the guy. Now.

The Padres can always revert back to the Triple-A philosophy in August when they are 20-plus games back.