Now or never
Indians arm themselves for October with Finley
By Tom Withers
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Of all the reasons the Cleveland Indians coveted Chuck Finley — he's left-handed, pitches 200-plus innings a year and owns the New York Yankees — one is paramount.
They want to win a World Series. Now.
And so does Finley.
"It's very important to me," he said. "I imagine it's frustrating to them, too. They've been knocking on the door. It's kind of a similar situation. Their frustration is parallel to mine."
After nearly trading for Finley last July, Cleveland signed him to a three-year, $27 million free agent contract in December.
The Indians couldn't wait any longer to get a frontline starter. Winning five straight AL Central titles and two AL pennants since 1995 doesn't cut it in Cleveland anymore. A first World Series championship since 1948 is the only thing left.
And Finley could be the missing piece.
"I don't know about the puzzle, but he fits," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "Sometimes a puzzle falls apart if you don't glue it together."
The 37-year-old Finley is Cleveland's first regular left-handed starter since Greg Swindell in 1991. He'll be slotted as the No. 2 starter behind Bartolo Colon and ahead of Charles Nagy, Dave Burba and Jaret Wright — all righties. Manuel plans to use five starters the first few months.
Finely knows the pressure is on. But if handling a little heat is all he has to do to win a World Series ring, well, then bring it on.
"I just want to slip right in there behind Bartolo or wherever and do my thing," he said. "I know they went out and said, 'Hey, we want you here.' So I know there are certain responsibilities with the commitment, and I don't want to say pressure, but obligation. I'm ready for it. I've been waiting for this chance my whole life."
Distracted by trade rumors, Finley got off to an awful start last season. He salvaged the year with a strong finish. He went 12-11 with 4.43 ERA, but was 7-1 the final two months, including 4-0 in September.
"He lost his focus there for a while," said Indians pitching coach Dick Pole, who was in Anaheim with Finley last year. "He got out of his routine a little bit."
Finley was in the final year of his contract with the Angels, with whom he began his career with in 1986. He wanted to stay with the club and decided to represent himself while trying to negotiate a deal to finish his playing days in Anaheim. He won 165 games pitching for some bad Anaheim teams
However, the dealings off the field hurt him on the mound.
"I had a stretch of five starts there where I probably would have been released from A-ball," he said. "I was getting hammered. I had the trade thing going on."
But once the trade deadline passed, Finley was his old self. He said the decision to sever the umbilical cord with Anaheim was difficult, but one he had to make if he wanted a shot at the World Series.
"It was a time and point in my career that it was time for me to move on," he said. "I didn't have five more years to wait around for it to come around.
Now he feels like a rookie again. Finley looks around the Indians' clubhouse and smiles knowing he won't have to face Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. He'll never have to worry about Kenny Lofton leading too far off first. And every time he takes the mound, he'll have Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel behind him.
"They're two vacuum cleaners out there," he said.
Then there's the Yankees. They have won the World Series three of the last four years. Finley's career record against them is 16-9.
But it hasn't come easily. When facing the Yankees, he describes his state of mind this way: "scared to death."
But with the Indians, that all changes. Finley doesn't have to be afraid anymore.
updated at Sun Feb 27 14:53:32 2000
16-9 = Yankee Killer? Finley has a good record against the Yanks, but I don't feel he "owns the New York Yankees." I'll take our Yanks with either Cone, Clemens, El Duque, or Pettitte any day over Finley and the Tribe.
"But with the Indians............... Finley doesn't have to be afraid anymore."
Uh....yes he does. Playing for the Angels, a team going nowhere, no pressure, and now playing for a team where he's expected to beat the Yankees, are two different things. Let's see how he handles the pressure when the games matter.