Hoffman, Padres not looking back

SAN DIEGO, CA Hoffman wisely pulled up and let the third baseman finish his swings.

"Colorado loves me enough already," baseball's career saves leader cracked.

Kouzmanoff has an offseason home in Denver, where the Padres' 2007 season ended in a gut-wrenching, 13-inning loss to the Colorado Rockies in a wild-card tiebreaker game on Oct. 1.

Matt Holliday never seemed to touch home plate with the winning run, but umpire Tim McClelland's delayed safe call gave Colorado a thrilling victory. The Rockies made it all the way to the World Series, where they were swept by the Boston Red Sox.

Hoffman walked off the field that night with his second blown save in three games. Two days earlier, Hoffman was one strike away from getting the Padres into the playoffs when he was victimized by Tony Gwynn Jr. All the Padres had to do was win one of their final three games to reach the playoffs for a third straight year. They lost all three.

The Padres start over on Monday night when NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy faces his buddy Roy Oswalt and the Houston Astros at Petco Park. Peavy started that Oct. 1 game at Denver, but wasn't effective. Scott Hairston, who hit a clutch two-run homer in the top of the 13th to give the Padres a short-lived lead over the Rockies, will start in center field in place of injured Jim Edmonds.

For the most part, the players have let it go. Hoffman, though, certainly carried the burden through the offseason.

"It's not as devastating as it is obviously in the moment," Hoffman said. "Do you ever really let something go? I think it's a source of motivation, I think it's a source of learning. It's just part of this role. I mean, you've got 524 saves and I couldn't recall half of 'em. But I can almost recall all the blown saves I've had. It's not a good thing. You don't want to dwell on a negative. but it's just the nature of the role."

Whether Holliday touched the plate after racing home on Jamey Carroll's shallow flyball doesn't matter to Hoffman. He'll leave that debate for talk radio.

"It's something that can't be changed, whether you want to believe he did or didn't," Hoffman said. "I think the thing that should be taken away from that moment is there were extreme highs and lows going on at the same time. There are many lessons that can be learned in sport and one of them is to compete your hardest.

There's no guarantees of a happy ending. Part of the fun of playing a game is all the things that go into it."

Hoffman, who turned 40 in October, doesn't need to hear trite phrases such as "unfinished business."

"That's for the radio lead-ins when we play Colorado," he said. "It's compounding a negative, more than anything, I think. There were so many positives in the game. I think you're better served to look at Scotty's home run and the valiant comeback by the Rockies, as opposed to how it happened."

For the most part, "people are not looking back at '07, they're looking ahead at '08," Hoffman said.

It's only going to be tougher for the Padres, who won the NL West with 82 victories in 2005, and finished third last year after winning 89 games.

Peavy will make his third straight opening-day start.

"I'm excited about it," said Peavy, the NL starter in the All-Star game and the unanimous choice as the Cy Young Award winner. "It's always an honor to take the field and have a chance to play against one of my good buddies, Roy Oswalt."

Peavy led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts -- pitching's version of a Triple Crown -- last year. He went 19-6 while topping the majors in ERA (2.54) and strikeouts (240).

The Oct. 1 loss to the Rockies is done and gone for Peavy, "and I hope it is for all the guys here," he said. "We've had all winter and spring to get over it. There should be no lingering effects."

Oswalt was 14-7 with a 3.18 ERA last year. He and Peavy got to know each other at the 2005 All-Star game.

"We just get along real well," Oswalt said. "We hunt together. And we see each other a couple of times in the offseason."

For a few hours, though, that won't matter.

"Once you get on the field, friendships don't carry over. You just want to go out and win for your team," Oswalt said. "It's opening day and that's big. But it won't be different because of him. I imagine once we get off, we'll probably go to dinner."

Oswalt will be Houston's opening-day starter for a franchise-record sixth time.

"I think it just means you're healthy coming out of spring training," he said. "I'm glad of that. I feel good. I'm ready to go. I'm anxious to get started."

Notes: C Josh Bard will start Monday night for the Padres, but the team will use both he and Michael Barrett this season. "We're very fortunate to have two front-line catchers," manager Bud Black said Sunday. ... The Astros purchased the contracts of OF Jose Cruz Jr. and RHP Brian Moehler from Triple-A Round Rock. On Monday, they plan to purchase the contract of INF Tomas Perez from Round Rock and designate for assignment catcher Humberto Quintero.

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