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10/02/06 9:01 PM ET

Healthy Peavy ready for Game 1 start

Padres ace hopes to atone for injury-marred outing last year

SAN DIEGO -- When Padres pitcher Jake Peavy walked up the podium steps Monday to discuss his feelings about starting Game 1 of the National League Division Series vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, it wasn't like everyone held their breath.

But they sure hoped he wouldn't stumble.

Peavy hasn't been accident-prone lately, yet his medical litany runs the gamut of jumping on a 2005 NL West title celebration pile and cracking a rib to slicing his pitching hand on a razor-sharp green-bean can nestled menacingly in garbage.

Early this season, he battled right arm tendinitis, so it's no wonder San Diego manager Bruce Bochy was delighted the team's acknowledged ace appears healthy entering Tuesday's initial contest in the best-of-five series at PETCO Park.

Oh yes, the 25-year-old Peavy -- 11-14 this season with a 4.09 ERA -- managed not to hurt himself during the press conference, and he also stayed clear on injuries during the team's postseason-clinching hoohaa Saturday.

"I wish I would have been watching him," joked Bochy. "I think Jake learned from last year. There were a lot of emotions and probably got a little crazy there, but this year ... they enjoyed it. Savored the moment, but didn't go overboard."

On Monday, Peavy laughed about that moment of juvenile frivolity in 2005, but the disappointment of its aftermath and how it adversely affected his pitching in Game 1 vs. the Cardinals was still on his mind.

"No doubt about it, I was in no shape to make quality pitches or throw 90 miles per hour, which of course I didn't do," said Peavy, who saw his fuel supply reach empty in a hurry, going only 4 1/3 innings with the Redbirds riddling him for eight hits and eight runs -- hardly a Peavyesque 16.62 ERA that game.

Peavy said he's watched video of that contest -- as painful now as his ribs felt then -- and viewed the imminently hittable 87-mph four-seam fastballs ricochet off the St. Louis bats.

"Now I feel so much better this year, and hopefully I can make a much better showing [Tuesday]," he said. "This time out, I feel as good as I've felt all year. The first was a little bit of a struggle, but the second half I've been healthy without any interference physically."

The time seems right for Peavy now. Mentally strong, muscles working in pitching harmony after a dreadful 0-3 record and 5.28 ERA in June, followed by a 1-2 mark with a 7.13 ERA in July.

Peavy returned to form the final, critical month, winning four games to help power the Padres to October, when adrenaline and emotions can rev to extremes, and he admits he thrives in meaningful games.

Game 1? Biggest of the year.

"These games down the stretch were huge," he said. "We played some big games in Dodger Stadium a few weeks ago. That atmosphere was as electric as any atmosphere I've been in. [Tuesday] will be no different.

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Tuesday means the Cardinals, who managed to hang on to their Central Division lead despite a stretch-run struggle. Tuesday means St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter, sluggers Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen and all that goes with winning the first game.

Peavy isn't buying that with injuries and personnel losses, the Cardinals are in a bad state, ready to roll over.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that they're down," said Peavy. "They haven't played the way they're capable of playing the last couple of weeks ... but they're a very good ballclub. They are as good as anybody personnel-wise."

Still, if the Padres hurler is on his game, his feet don't hurt and he doesn't bang an elbow on the tunnel leading from the clubhouse to the field Tuesday afternoon, at least he'll be full power.

That's all he can ask for.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can go into the start healthy -- I promise you that," he said.

Uh, Jake, ole buddy, just don't squeeze those digits too hard.

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