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Trevor Hoffman collects 600th save

MILWAUKEE -- For the past two seasons, Trevor Hoffman has organized and led all clubhouse celebrations when one of his Milwaukee Brewers teammates reached any particular accomplishment.

On Tuesday night, it was his turn.

Hoffman added another milestone to his illustrious career, earning his 600th save by closing out the Brewers' 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Brewers players hoisted Hoffman on their shoulders and carried him toward the dugout as his wife Tracy and three sons, Brody, Quinn and Wyatt, ran onto the field to hug him.

"You saw how my teammates reacted," Hoffman said. "Those are the type of moments you see when teams have success and they head into the postseason. To have your teammates have that kind of outpouring is hard to describe.

"I guess it shows that you're doing things right and you're having an impact in a positive manner," he said. "You appreciate the game, you appreciate them and they are appreciating you back."

Hoffman had an 11.65 ERA in his first 18 appearances this year and lost his closer's job to rookie John Axford. Instead of sulking or lashing out at management, Hoffman quietly tutored Axford and worked in middle relief during the summer to improve.

His numbers have been much better lately with a 2.63 ERA in his last 29 appearances. He's been getting ninth-inning work lately as the team tried to help him reach No. 600.

"It was probably the best hold of my entire life right there for his 600th save," said Axford, who recorded two outs in the eighth.

Axford has converted 20 of 22 saves while being mentored by Hoffman.

"In all honesty, he's meant everything to my development," Axford said. "He carries about his business perfectly. He's been the best mentor for me.

"I see what he does and I try to build upon that. I try to do right by Trevor and that's by doing things the right way."

Milwaukee manager Ken Macha pointed to an example of the leadership Hoffman has provided the young Brewers pitchers.

"Today, we're out there taking extra [batting practice] and we've got all these pitchers [led by Hoffman] running around in the parking lot with their shirts off, so it's something else that he's done for these guys," Macha said.

The team presented Hoffman with a large painting of him pitching at Miller Park, and sold commemorative T-shirts to fans after the game. His teammates gave him praise in the locker room and a gift of cigars.

"He's taught me a lot of things as far as being a teammate and being a team player and going about the game," slugger Prince Fielder said. "Everything he says is good knowledge. His work ethic is through the roof. He works hard every day."

Besides Hoffman's milestone, it was a game where four people were ejected by the umpires, including Macha. The manager was tossed in the second inning, but watched the game from the clubhouse. He said pitching coach Rick Peterson came in to ask him about the ninth inning, and he told him to send Hoffman to the mound.

The right-hander entered in the ninth to his traditional music -- "Hells Bells" by AC/DC -- and gave up a bloop single to Colby Rasmus. Pinch-hitter Randy Winn then grounded into a double play.

Hoffman got pinch-hitter Aaron Miles on a grounder to shortstop for the final out and raised his arms in triumph as teammates rushed to mob him near the mound. Fireworks went off and the No. 599 was peeled off to reveal '600' on a sign next to the Brewers' bullpen in left-center.

"He's one of the best relievers the game's ever seen," Miles said. "I always look forward to competing against him in the ninth inning. Congratulations to him."

It was Hoffman's ninth save in 13 chances this season and 600th in 676 career opportunities. He earned his first save for Florida in 1993, then spent most of his career with the San Diego Padres before joining the Brewers last season.

He said he hasn't decided whether he'll return to pitch next season or retire.

Hoffman passed Lee Smith as the career saves leader, earning No. 479 while pitching for San Diego against Pittsburgh on Sept. 24, 2006.

Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is second in major league history with 555 saves.