On Sunday night, as the Brewers were on their way to completing an 0-6 homestand against the Braves and Phillies, troubled Milwaukee closer Trevor Hoffman - he of the 596 career saves and the best entrance music in baseball - walked to the mound to get ready for the ninth inning. So what was playing on the Miller Park speakers?
"Dancing Queen", by Abba.
Granted, it wasn't a save situation (the Phillies were ahead 4-2) and it was the final night of the retro-1970s weekend, so the PA system had been blaring 1970s music between innings all game. Still, it certainly felt weird to see #51 walk in from the left-field bullpen to the exuberant disco track rather than the booming bells of AC/DC's iconic hit. As Miller Park Drunk pointed out, it was almost like the Brewers were punishing him for his poor start to the season.
And Hoffman's start to the season is definitely worthy of punishment. Counting Tuesday's game, where he was called in to protect a two-run lead in Cincinnati and proceeded to give up three runs to the next five batters (without recording an out), Hoffman has blown five saves in ten chances and given up seven home runs and 19 earned runs in only 13 innings. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported today that the Brewers would not pitch Hoffman for a few days while they worked on his mechanics. Whether he would return to active duty as the closer or not was left unsaid.
I have to say, I'm just as upset and disheartened about Hoffman's performance this year as pretty much all Brewers fans. When I see him get called in to the game in the ninth inning, I can't even will myself to think optimistically, and I absolutely believe that Ken Macha and Doug Melvin need to shuffle the bullpen around and let Carlos Villanueva close out a few games.
But I'm not one to traffic in negativism - it's lazy and less-than-productive - so instead I thought I'd look at something a little more positive: when did "Hell's Bells" become synonymous with Trevor Hoffman?
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It was a good year for Padres fans, 1998. Led by Kevin Brown, Greg Vaughn, and Ken Caminiti, the club made it to their second-ever World Series before losing to the Yankees' burgeoning dynasty. They also got a little help from their star closer, Trevor Hoffman, who converted 41 consecutive save opportunities - tying Rod Beck's then-record - from August 24, 1997, through July 25, 1998. He would only blow one save all year.
That record-tying game on July 25 was also the first time he walked in to "Hell's Bells." They continued it the next night, when Hoffman was called in to pick up the save in a one-run game. Moises Alou, who Hoffman struck out to end the game the night before, took his first pitch deep to tie the game and end the streak. The Padres would go on to win the game. This is what the San Diego Union-Tribune had to say about the game:
"The entrance was more suited to the World Wrestling Federation than the national pastime.
As Trevor Hoffman trotted to the mound at Qualcomm Stadium yesterday, the sound of death-march bells emanated from the scoreboard speakers at about a gazillion decibels.
The fans rose to their feet as the heavy metal group AC/DC pounded out the song "Hell's Bells."
Hoffman warmed up as the lead singer screamed about sending his victims to someplace farther down under than his Australian roots.
Hoffman was there to bury the Astros and protect a 4-3 lead. He was three outs from setting the major league record for the longest stretch of converted saves.
He tied Rod Beck with No. 41 on Saturday against the Astros -- striking out Moises Alou for the last out. There was Alou again, leading off the ninth.
I can only imagine how amazing those two games must have been, hearing those bells chime for the first time as Hoffman exited the bullpen. We've grown to expect it now, and it's still chilling. How must those 50,000 fans have felt that first time?
Earlier this year, I went to the Brewers-Cardinals game here in Milwaukee with some cousins from St. Louis. One of them is a huge Cardinals fan and even he could admit to the electricity in the air. With the bells ringing and the crowd roaring (after all, Hoffman hadn't blown any saves so far this year), I looked over at my cousin to see him with his mouth slightly agape, just taking in the atmosphere. That is what Trevor Time is all about. And that is why we're so disappointed to see his career (possibly) ending before our eyes.
The paper continued:
'"This streak could have ended 20 saves ago with someone taking a different swing," Hoffman said. "You don't second-guess yourself in this game. It's part of the game. I got (Alou) Saturday. He got me back today."
Alou admitted he was playing a guessing game with Hoffman, who started him with a fastball Saturday, then went change-up and slider to get him out.
Fastball again? Fastball it was.
"I was looking for fastball away," said Alou, who now has 25 homers.
Said Hoffman: "I wanted to throw it down and away and it came back over the plate.
"Part of this is having luck on your side. Today, no luck. Tomorrow . . . "
Maybe it's not luck. The "Hell's Bells" dirge wasn't played as his entrance music until Saturday.
Hoffman was 40-0 with tamer music; he's 1-1 with heavy metal.'
Technically, he was 166-for-193 (86%) before the bells were rung for the first time. Since then, he has gone 430-for-479 (90%). I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the nightly AC/DC hasn't adversely affected his career.
There are two things that Trevor Hoffman will always be remembered for: "Hell's Bells" and a heckuva lot of saves. That's a pretty great legacy. We can only hope, then, that his career doesn't end on "Dancing Queen" and a string of blown saves.