ANAHEIM — Chuck Finley finally got his invitation to join the Angels' party Thursday night, and he didn't go home disappointed.
Finley wouldn't come out and say it, so Angel Manager Buck Rodgers made the pronouncement for him.
"Oh yeah, this was his best performance since the end of 1991," Rodgers said. "It's good to see him back."
All Finley wanted to talk about was rookie J.T. Snow's two home runs in the Angels' 8-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Anaheim Stadium.
"I was just drafting off J.T., that's all I was doing," Finley said, laughing. "I was a little ol' Volkswagen behind a semi."
Truth be known, Finley finally upstaged Snow's nightly long-ball show with a two-hit, 10-strikeout complete-game shutout over the Indians.
One by one the pieces have now fallen into place, providing the Angels, 9-4 and leading the American League West, with their best start since 1982. Getting the left-handed Finley through a near-flawless outing seemed to be the only missing link.
He said he's had better stuff--more zip on his fastball and more movement on his forkball--in other recent starts. And it's often difficult to recall past overpowering performances, particularly after scuffling through 1992 after toe surgery. But perhaps in time, Thursday's victory will stand out in Finley's mind.
"I threw some games I thought were pretty good, but last year they were so few and far between it's hard to say," said Finley, 2-0 with a 2.96 earned-run average.
If nothing else, it was the night that he came through with an eye-catching show of his own. For more than two weeks now, Finley has sat back and watched his teammates--Snow especially--pull off one surprise after another. Until Thursday, Finley's starts were forgettable if not just plain lousy.
"I've been having more fun watching than playing," Finley said. "I enjoy (winning) whether I'm playing or not."
Still . . .
"We've got a pretty good ballclub here and I didn't want to do anything to spoil it."
So he went out and baffled the Indians, the major league's top-hitting club with a .309 average, with a strong fastball and an excellent forkball.
Following his method of operation in the three-game sweep of the Indians, Snow took care of the offense by hitting bases-empty home runs in the fourth and seventh innings. It turned out to be all the support Finley would need, but for good measure the Angels hammered Indian pitching for 12 hits.
Finley took care of the rest, retiring 19 of the last 20 batters he faced. If anything, he got stronger as the game went on, recording four strikeouts in the final three innings. The combination of good stuff and the Indians' aggressive-hitting lineup made Finley an easy winner.
"They're a free-swinging team and if you get them in the right counts, it doesn't make it easy, but you don't have to take as many aspirins at night," Finley said.