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Hoffman secures Padres' win with 425th career save

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Trevor Hoffman has gotten used to the blaring
music and cheering fans when he jogs in from the bullpen in the
ninth inning, and the feeling Wednesday night wasn't any different
than the hundreds of other times he'd done it.

The result, though, was definitely significant.

Hoffman earned his 425th save to take sole possession of second
place on the career list and the NL West-leading San Diego Padres
beat the Houston Astros 7-4 on Wednesday night to climb back to
.500.

Hoffman broke a tie with John Franco for second place, pitching
the ninth for his 32nd save in 34 chances this year. With 54 more
saves, the closer will pass Lee Smith, who retired with 478.

Hoffman has been pretty durable during his march up the career
list, with the exception of 2003, when he had zero saves as he
rehabbed from two offseason shoulder surgeries.

"The ability to do it for a long period of time, I think, is
something that kind of separates a little bit from other guys that
had phenomenal years," Hoffman said. "The ability to hold the
position down for a few years and go out and do your job is
something I'm proud of."

All but two of Hoffman's saves have been with San Diego, which
acquired him from Florida on June 24, 1993, in a five-player deal
that sent Gary Sheffield to the Marlins.

Hoffman tries not to think about catching Smith.

"Having gone through a couple of surgeries with the shoulder,
and as close as maybe the numbers do look after 12 years and seeing
where you've put yourself, I don't really allow myself to kind of
look too far beyond that next opportunity," he said.

"But you know that it's in reach. There were a few years back
there when I'm going through rehab that you're just worried about
getting back on the mound. I'm excited where individually it
stands, but more importantly, I'm glad it's happening in a San
Diego Padres' uniform."

Hoffman saves the ball from each of his saves, and he got a
lineup card from Wednesday night's game.

He said he'll remember this save because longtime bullpen
catcher Mark Merila, who's battling a brain tumor, warmed him up in
the bullpen. Merila has been working home games only since he had a
seizure in New York during a road trip in late July.

"Really, the hard work that I get accolades for, he's the guy
behind the scenes that has much more on his shoulders than going
out and pitching a ballgame," Hoffman said. "This is something
that we'll share together."

Brian Giles had three hits and two RBI, Joe Randa had three
hits and three runs, and Miguel Olivo drove in three runs for San
Diego. Giles was 7-for-12 with five RBI in the series.

The Padres took two of three from the Astros, who dropped 1½
games behind Philadelphia in the wild-card race. The Phillies beat
San Francisco.

San Diego increased its lead to six games over Arizona, which
lost to the New York Mets, and Los Angeles, which lost to Colorado.

Leading 5-2 in the sixth, the Padres loaded the bases with one
out against Mike Gallo before Chad Qualls came on and struck out
Xavier Nady before hitting Damian Jackson and Olivo on consecutive
pitches to force in two runs.

"It wasn't too pretty," manager Phil Garner said. "We were in
trouble the whole night, it seemed like. We couldn't find the
plate. When we did we gave up some hits."

The Astros pulled to 7-4 in the eighth on Brad Ausmus' RBI
single and an unearned run that scored on a fielding error by
Randa, the third baseman.

Giles drove in runs with a single in the first inning and a
triple in the third. On Tuesday night, he drove in both of San
Diego's runs in a 2-0 win over Roger Clemens, including a
seventh-inning homer.

Padres starter Chan Ho Park (3-1) allowed two runs, one earned,
and five hits in five innings. He struck out two and walked two.

Lance Berkman had two RBI for the Astros.

Giles tied the game at 1 in the first when his single bounced
off first base, bringing in Dave Roberts from third. Roberts drew a
leadoff walk, stole second and advanced on Randa's groundout.

Berkman, who had an RBI double in the first, tied it in the
fifth when his hit-and-run single brought in Ausmus from second.

But the Padres went ahead 5-2 in the fifth on four hits and two
walks off two relievers.

The big hit was Olivo's two-run, bases-loaded single to right
off Russ Springer with two outs to make it 5-2. Ryan Klesko singled
in the go-ahead run off Wandy Rodriguez (8-6) with one out.

Astros starter Ezequiel Astacio lasted 3 2-3 innings, allowing
two runs on six hits. He was pulled with runners on second and
third and two outs in the fourth. Chad Harville came on and got
Roberts to ground to first.

Game notes
Rodriguez was bumped from the Astros' rotation because of
off days on Thursday and Monday. ... The Padres will go with a
six-man rotation, at least one time through. Adam Eaton will come
off the DL and start Friday night, followed by Brian Lawrence,
Pedro Astacio, Woody Williams, Jake Peavy and Park.