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Finley really Indians' insurance

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


If the Cleveland Indians' three-year, $27-million investment in Chuck Finley is going to pay off this season, it's going to have to be in the post-season.

For this year's $9-million share, they've gotten a pitcher barely better than .500. Then again, they probably knew that when they opened the checkbook.

With the exception of 1997, when he was 13-6, Finley came into this season only two games over .500 (86-84) since 1992. And at 12-11 going into the weekend, he's not going to improve much on that this season. Since starting 3-0, he hasn't won more than two in a row.

Maybe the Indians see Finley as a long-term investment -- October insurance.

They did a bit of quick calculating after last season and came to a few logical conclusions:

(a) They'd play in the post-season.

(b) So would the Yankees.

(c) There was a pretty good chance they'd play each other.

(d) And until someone proved otherwise, the American League road to the World Series would still be paved with pinstripes.

As long as the Indians figured they needed a left-handed starter anyway, they went after Finley, who could be particularly valuable in just such a situation.

His lifetime record against the Yankees is 16-9; he's had one no-decision against them this season. Only two active pitchers, Kevin Brown and Todd Stottlemyre, have a better winning percentage against them than Finley's .640.

Having him around to help add to their streak of five AL Central titles would be very helpful. Having him for a short post-season series against the Yankees, when teams reduce their starting rotation to four pitchers, would be even more helpful.

The first half of the equation hasn't quite worked out. The division title belongs to the White Sox, and with two weeks left in the season, the wild card isn't anywhere close to a sure thing.

Finley had a chance Tuesday against Boston to tighten the Indians' grip on first place in the wild-card standings. Instead, Finley did what has become a disturbing habit. He fell apart too quickly for the bullpen to save him, in this case a six-run third inning.

It was his second six-run inning -- to go along with two five-run innings, two four-run inning and six three-run innings.

Manager Charlie Manuel says Finley is too aggressive, that he has to rein himself in. Finley says ... nothing. When he loses as badly and suddenly as he did to Boston, he doesn't stick around long enough to talk about it.

LOOK WHO'S LOOKING AHEAD: Roger Clemens is 9-0 with a 2.21 ERA since July 2, when he came off the disabled list, and Yankees manager Joe Torre said he would be surprised if his 38-year-old ace isn't No. 1 in the rotation when the playoffs begin.

For one thing, Clemens is on track to open the playoffs Oct. 3. He is scheduled to start Monday, Saturday, Sept. 23 and Sept. 28, which would give him his normal four days' rest for Game 1.

Clemens isn't ready to think that far ahead. "You don't know who's going to be here and who's not," he said, "and what slot you're going to be in -- if any."

THEY COULD BE GIANTS: Barry Bonds has yet to experience a World Series. While teammates are speaking as though getting there this year is a foregone conclusion, the San Francisco slugger -- like Clemens -- would just as soon not think about it.

Bonds has been to the playoffs four times, three with the Pirates and one with San Francisco, only to be eliminated.

"Every time I think about it, I go home early," Bonds said. "It's a disappointment every year not to go to the World Series. I love baseball, but I don't love baseball enough to not go to the World Series every year."

Manager Dusty Baker, thinking ahead a bit, said it would be nice if the Giants could clinch a playoff berth before the home crowd at their new ballpark -- but it's not a prerequisite: "I'll clinch in Siberia if that's what it takes."

AND YOU THOUGHT L.A. HOUSING WAS OVERPRICED: The Dodgers probably will finish above .500. They may even finish third in the NL West, ahead of Colorado and San Diego.

This is what $98-million buys in Los Angeles.

Outfielder Gary Sheffield of Tampa suggests that general manager Kevin Malone deserves part of the blame.

"You can't have question marks when you're trying to win a pennant," Sheffield said. "If you're trying to win and you have question marks at the trade deadline, then you fix those question marks and go from there. You don't stamp your feet in spring training, put all your marbles in one basket, and say, "This is the team I'm going with; we're going to win.' ...

"You can't look at superstars and assume things are going to happen just because of how much money you pay someone," Sheffield said, a reference to struggling outfielder Shawn Green. "They're human, and things happen in this game. It's a humbling game."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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