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10/02/06 3:15 AM ET

Peavy gets the call in Game 1

Right-hander starts in playoff opener for second straight year

PHOENIX -- As the Padres were getting packed for a flight home in anticipation of Tuesday afternoon's playoff opener at PETCO Park against the Cardinals, manager Bruce Bochy said no decision had been made on a Game 1 starter.

"We're going to look into that and weigh everything on the flight," Bochy said. "We have three guys who are rested and can go. I have enough confidence in all five of our guys to start any of them."

The decision figured to come down to a choice between Jake Peavy, the acknowledged ace of the staff, and Chris Young, who has been dominant over the past month. Young has had one more day of rest than Peavy, who would be working on his normal fifth day.

By the time the team got back to San Diego late Monday night, the decision had been made: It'll be Peavy.

Having put some early-season struggles behind him, Peavy is feeling up to the task.

"In the second half, I've felt like myself. I've had good stuff, and I feel strong," Peavy said prior to heading home to San Diego.

Peavy has returned to his 2005 All-Star form after recovering from early-season shoulder tendinitis, which was worse than he wanted anyone to know. Couple the physical issues with inadequate run support -- 10 times, the team did not score while he was on the mound -- and his 11-14 record comes into focus as highly deceiving.

He finished second by one strikeout to Cincinnati's Aaron Harang in his bid for a second straight NL title in that category, finishing with 215 and a league-best 9.6 per nine innings. Peavy does it with a repertoire -- 92-95 mph heater, big slider, deadly changeup -- as versatile as any in the game, and he has the temperament and bearing of an ace.

Young, 11-5 with a 3.45 ERA that was the best among the five starters, came off his no-hit flirtation against the Pirates at PETCO Park, where Joe Randa ended his bid with one out in the ninth inning, with another overpowering effort in St. Louis on Wednesday.

In seven innings, he allowed only five baserunners -- three hits, two walks -- while giving up one run and striking out six. He dismissed concerns over back spasms which came to light after the game, saying, "It's nothing to be concerned about."

Putting a deceptive fastball in the right spots and utilizing two breaking pitches and a developing changeup, the 6-foot-10 former Princeton star took no-hitters late into games three times this season. In a testament to his mental toughness, he does his best work in unfriendly environs. Young hasn't lost in 24 consecutive road starts, one shy of Allie Reynolds' all-time record, and his road ERA of 2.41 was the league's best.

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He was also the toughest pitcher to hit, holding opponents to a league-best .206 average. Peavy was sixth, holding opponents to a .242 average.

"I feel good about the way I've been throwing," Young said. "I've found a comfortable rhythm. I'm really looking forward to my next start. This is exciting -- and challenging."

At the same time, Young always refers to Peavy as "the ace," expressing admiration for the right-hander's competitive nature and remarkable talents.

"He does amazing things out there," Young said. "Jake is our ace. He's really a special talent."

Also in the mix is Clay Hensley, who has been consistently effective for more than two months but seems the most likely of the five starters to be moved to the bullpen given his experience there last season.

David Wells, one of the game's premier pressure pitchers, will be fully rested when Game 3 arrives on Saturday in St. Louis, with Woody Williams projected for Game 4 in his former home.

Wells pitched six scoreless innings on Saturday at Chase Field, not allowing a baserunner to reach scoring position, while Williams was solid in Sunday's victory over the Diamondbacks, going 6 2/3 innings and yielding four earned runs and six hits.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.