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If you consider the National League Wild Card to be a worth collection of marbles, that is.

Whatever. This is it. Game number 163 of the 2007 championship season. The stats count, and Jake Peavy has a chance to become the NL’s only 20-game winner. He’d rather not, I’m quite sure. And he’s got the Cy Young Award wrapped up already.

But let’s get something straight right now, and dispense with the “choke” label, shall we? Not a peep, please. In losing their last two games to make this playoff necessary, the Padres did not choke. They did not choke. The Mets choked, like you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t see it, but the Padres did not choke. They lost is what they did. They just plain lost.

The baseball gods, if you believe in such things, wrote a pretty good script, with Tony Gwynn, Jr. coming through with a two-out, two-strike, game-tying triple off Trevor Hoffman in the bottom of the ninth Saturday at Milwaukee. Poetic, actually. Brett Tomko losing Sunday is another matter indeed, and if those looking down on us orchestrated that one, perhaps it’s just their odd sense of humor at play.

The Brewers series will be all but forgotten come 8:00 p.m. or so Monday, if Peavy beats the Rockies at Coors Field. And while were on that subject, let’s get the second guessing out of the way too. Bud Black made the right call in saving his ace for a possible playoff. It was mistake to use Peavy on three days rest earlier, and it blew up in the manager’s face, but saving Peavy for an unwanted extra game made complete sense.

Monday’s contest marks the 11th time in baseball history that a playoff has been required to decide a berth in the postseason, and the seventh time that the rules have allowed for a one-game, winner-take-all affair. The losing squad’s fans will no doubt say “it doesn’t seem fair,” and they’ll be right, but better to have this shot at history than not, don’t you think?

Peavy is the NL’s best pitcher. Colorado’s starter, Josh Fogg, well, is not. Peavy leads the league in the so-called “triple crown” categories of pitching, with a record of 19-6, an ERA of 2.36 and 234 strikeouts. Fogg is 10-9, 4.79, and 89. A mismatch? Perhaps, but Fogg has won four of his last five starts, and more importantly, will have the home field crowd on his side.

San Diego used 10 different pitchers between Saturday and Sunday’s games; Colorado seven over the same period, but there will be no saving guys for another day on either side. Not a chance. Managers Bud Black and Clint Hurdle will have their entire staffs ready, just in case. For the Pads, that includes weekend starters Chris Young and Brett Tomko, and means that if Hoffman has to go two innings, or pitch in a non-save situation, look for it to happen.

If you’re not a baseball fan, Monday evening will be a good time for a drive, or to go shopping, for marbles perhaps. In San Diego, you will have very little company.

— HOWARD COLE

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