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ANGELS: ONE GAME FOR THE TITLE : Finley's Performance Speaks Volumes About Character : Baseball: Teammates were confident Angel veteran would get the job done and force a playoff with Seattle.

October 02, 1995|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — One of Chuck Finley's first big league memories was offering his opinion during a clubhouse conversation only to be rebuked by Reggie Jackson. "Just remember, kid," Jackson said, "nobody cares what you think. Rookies are to be seen and not heard."

That was in May, 1986, and, after 10 largely successful seasons with the Angels, Finley is a long way from being a rookie. He may be the dean, but he still talks softly and lets his forkball speak volumes.

Sunday, while his teammates flipped back and forth between the Yankee-Blue Jay game and the Mariner-Ranger game and discussed possible playoff scenarios, Finley sat alone in the dugout for half an hour before what would be arguably the biggest start of his life.

"This was a game we had to have," Finley said. "I just wanted to get away from it all and focus on that."

Then he took the mound.

Then he took care of business.

Finley struck out nine, gave up only four hits and two runs in 7 1/3 innings as the Angels beat Oakland, 8-2, to force a playoff for the American League West title today in Seattle.

"We have a saying around here," Chili Davis said, smiling, "'Fin to win.' Make that your headline, man. It was Fin to win today and now we've got a chance to see him pitch again."

Finley's biggest outing before Sunday might have been Wednesday's 2-0 shutout in a game that could have clinched a tie for the Mariners with four to play. Since Manager Marcel Lachemann went to a four-man rotation, Finley has allowed 11 earned runs in four games.

But none of it would have meant anything without Sunday's victory.

"Chuck gave us another big outing," Lachemann said. "We got out on top and then having Chuck shut them down after that, that was really huge."

Finley surveyed the clog of media jockeying for position in front of his locker and chuckled. "If we had lost, I'd have been talking with two or three of you guys and then I'd be going home," he said. "Now, we got a plane to catch.

"We picked a bad time to go into a slump and we almost ran out of games before we picked it back up. After we left Seattle, we knew we couldn't lose again. We did what we had to do to get from where we were to where we are and we have to feel good about that accomplishment no matter what happens [today] in Seattle."

The Angels scored a couple of runs in the first, a big step in a pressure game, and Finley struck out five in the first three innings to establish command.

"He was getting his breaking ball over early and he got some called strikes on his stuff inside," catcher Andy Allanson said. "Plus, he was really making the pitches when he had to."

The only blip in the first five innings was a solo homer by Terry Steinbach in the second.

"I think Chuck deserves most of the credit today," J.T. Snow said. "He pitched a great game and really came through for us when we needed it most. He just shut them down."

Finley, who said Sunday's atmosphere was "a postseason game to me," admitted that it was a little nerve-racking, but he also kept reminding himself that this was the culmination of everything he has worked for.

"You've got to want to be out there in a game like this," he said. "You want to absorb it and feed off it. I've been working all my life to be in a game like this with something on the line.

"I just wanted to make sure that I didn't pitch tentatively, that I used all my pitches. If I got pounded, I got pounded, but I wasn't going to go out there and try to nibble. I was going after them."

Finley allowed the one hit through five innings, but he got in a little trouble in the sixth. Stan Javier led off with a bunt single, stole second and took third on Brent Gates' single to right. Mark McGwire drove in Javier with a sacrifice fly and Finley walked Steinbach, but he struck out Danny Tartabull to end the inning.

He worked a 1-2-3 seventh and left after giving up a one-out single to Geronimo Berroa in the eighth.

"You never want to come out of a game, but I had no problem with Lach going to [Percival] there," Finley said. "With the score like it was, I knew I'd done my job."

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