Padres' Young doesn't smell fear in return

SAN DIEGO – Physical scars remain, the most prominent an inch-long red line running from the bottom of Chris Young's forehead, straight between his eyes and across the bridge of his nose. It is bisected by a crescent-shaped scar, and a half-inch lower a bright red oval beams from the top of his beak.

Whether mental scars also linger will become clear Tuesday night when Young takes the mound for the first time since a line drive off the bat of St. Louis Cardinals strongman Albert Pujols crushed his face May 21.

Young isn't the same. He's the first to admit it. Food tastes differently, when there is taste at all. His sense of smell is diminished, at least for now. His nose is at the same time less and more sensitive.

"I don't have complete sensation back, so it's somewhat numb," he said. "But it's also tender to the touch. There isn't a full recovery yet."

But enough of one to resume pitching. His taste for competition hasn't lessened. The sweet scent of victory is something he's sure he'll recognize. Young, one of the better starters in the National League, is ready to return to work, 60 feet 6 inches from batter after batter, any of whom could drive the ball back through the middle.

"No flinching," he said in a determined tone. "There won't be any flinching."

Young hasn't watched video of the incident that caused multiple fractures in his nasal bone, a deviated septum and a small crack in the bone of the skull. He said he never will.

"I lived it," he said. "I remember it. I can still vividly see it in my mind. I don't need a video."

A Princeton graduate and one of the game's most cerebral players, Young leans on probability theory for reassurance.

"One in a million shot," he said. "I'm not going to take any risk that's going to jeopardize my life. The chances of it happening again are extremely low."

So far, so good. In his first rehabilitation minor league game July 16, he opened with 10 consecutive strikes. And his nerves have been tested every step since then.

"In his last simulated game, he took a line drive off the shin," Padres manager Bud Black said. "Somebody else hit a line drive right by his head.

"No flinch."

Jake Peavy just shakes his head. The Padres resident ace isn't sure how he'd bounce back from taking a shot between the eyes. It's every pitcher's worst nightmare, one so horrific that nobody wants to talk about it, even though close calls occur nearly every night at one stadium or another.

Peavy, in fact, got a scare in his most recent start, Sunday against Pittsburgh. The first batter he faced drilled a line shot toward his face, but Peavy got his glove up in time to deflect the ball. It turned out to be a harmless 1-4-3 out and a deep exhale of relief.

"Not fun," Peavy said. "I can't imagine what (Young) went through. When you talk about getting hit in the face, how can you go out there and not be gun-shy? It's something that he's going to have to deal with. It's scary."

And it happens. The Twins' Nick Blackburn was hit in the mouth by a Bobby Abreu shot earlier this season. Mariners reliever Rafael Soriano was struck in the head by a Vladimir Guerrero line drive in 2006. The Rays' Edwin Jackson was also hit in the head that season.

Billy Wagner experienced vertigo after being hit in the side of the head 10 years ago. But at least he fared better than his Houston Astros teammate Jeff Bagwell predicted after rushing to the mound. Bagwell leaned over the fallen Wagner, took a look at his head and said, "He's dead."

Mike Mussina was drilled above the eye in 1998 and admitted to flinching the rest of the season. He eventually recovered, of course, going 18-7 in 1999 and is still pitching today. The worst casualty came in 1957 when 24-year-old Herb Score, fresh off a 20-win season for the Cleveland Indians, had his career ended by a line drive off the bat of the Yankees' Gil McDougald.

No one expects a similar fate to befall Young, 29. Getting belted in the nose with a baseball is an apt metaphor for this painful Padres season, yet the return of a pitcher who held batters to a .198 average in 2006 and 2007 is cause for optimism.

"Chris knows how to play the game," Black said. "Most guys at this level are mentally strong enough to suffer an injury or even something of this magnitude and put it behind them."

For his part, Young is already looking at silver linings. He mentioned that for the past two months he'd spent most of his time with his wife and 5-month-old daughter. And about that diminished sense of smell? Thank God.

"It was a lot of fun as a dad to spend more time with my little girl than I could have otherwise," he said. "And I couldn't smell the dirty diapers. My wife would say, 'Do you smell that?' I'd just shake my head. Maybe that was a good thing."

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