With the San Diego Padres facing elimination in last night's Game 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals, there was the distinct possibility, however unwelcome, that closer Trevor Hoffman has played his last game in a Padres uniform. Hoffman, who will turn 38 next week, has 434 of his 436 career saves with San Diego, but he is a free agent after the season, and wants to make significantly more than the $5 million he earned this year.

"I hate to think that Trevor Hoffman would not be in a San Diego uniform," Manager Bruce Bochy said. "When you think of Trevor, you think of San Diego."

Hoffman didn't pitch in the first two games of the series, but Bochy said he was likely to pitch -- possibly early -- in Game 3. Hoffman had 43 saves in 46 opportunities, the second-best save percentage in baseball, trailing Ryan Dempster of the Chicago Cubs (33 of 35).

"I feel like I can still do this job," Hoffman said, "and I'd like to do it here."

Prime-Time Snub

Major League Baseball has made it clear to the participants in this series that it is the afterthought of the postseason, with a midafternoon start for Game 1, a later afternoon start for Game 2 and a late-night start -- East Coast time -- for Game 3, the only series not to appear in prime time. Even if the Padres won Game 3 to extend the series, the fourth game is scheduled for today at 4 p.m. EDT.

But the teams said it was a non-issue.

"In fact," Bochy said, "I think the players prefer a night game, to be honest." . . .

Bochy said yesterday that he is "99 percent" sure that right-hander Jake Peavy won't pitch even if the series is extended to a fifth game. Peavy suffered a broken eighth rib prior to or during his start in Game 1, and he indicated that he would like to get back on the mound. But Bochy said yesterday that the club decided not to give Peavy an injection to relieve the pain.

Braves Go With McCann

Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann, the 21-year-old rookie who homered in his first postseason at-bat on Thursday against the Houston Astros' Roger Clemens, was back in the lineup for Game 3.

"Well, we'll see what happens," Manager Bobby Cox said before McCann went 1 for 4 with an RBI. "Mac was swinging before the playoffs started. He started hitting the ball awfully hard. You know, he hit the big home run the other night, why not go with him?" . . .

Houston Astros Game 4 starter Brandon Backe will likely benefit from making his start at Minute Maid Park, where he is 6-2 with a 3.41 ERA this season. In 28 career games at Minute Maid Park, Backe is 10-3 with a 3.12 ERA. On the road, Backe was 4-6 with a 5.83 ERA.

"You know if you go to a different ballpark, I know it's 60 feet 6 inches from the rubber to the plate, but the backgrounds are much different," he said.

"Obviously the crowd being here, my home town, coming from my house, sleeping in my own bed and just being on that mound over and over, I pretty much think that's the reason why I'm a little bit more comfortable out there."

Svrluga reported from San Diego, Arangure from Houston.