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Torched By An Angel Marital bliss is helping Chuck Finley blow through opposing lineups

At an age when most pitchers are slowing down, Angels lefty
Chuck Finley, 35, has reinvented himself. He has a new
bleached-blond look, a new pitch and a new bride. And while he
has always been a solid pitcher--as his four All-Star Game
selections will attest--he's never been more effective than he's
been over the past 10 months. Since June 27 of last season
Finley has not lost a game, going 14-0 over that span and
leaving him just three games shy of the American League record
of 17 straight wins jointly held by Dave McNally of the Orioles
and Johnny Allen of the Indians. "I just caught a wave out in
the middle of the ocean, and I've been riding it hard ever
since," Finley says of the streak.

The ride was going very smoothly this season--Finley was 4-0 and
had the lowest ERA (1.79) in the American League at week's
end--until a line drive shot off the bat of the White Sox' Chad
Kreuter hit him on the elbow and knocked him out of last
Saturday's 5-3 Angels win. Despite that setback, Finley was
still third in the league in strikeouts (47) while holding
opposing batters to a paltry .215 average. (Righthanded batters,
oddly enough, were hitting just .190 against the southpaw and
lefties were batting .295.) "Anytime you've got a guy like Chuck
Finley taking the mound, you think you're going to win," says
Angels manager Terry Collins, whose team is 7-0 this season when
Finley starts. "When you leave your house in the morning, on the
way to the ballpark, you like your chances."

Finley is still using the three pitches--fastball, curve,
split-finger--that have always been his bread and butter, but he
has added a fourth pitch that has made all the difference. Not
quite a changeup but definitely not a heater, Finley calls it a
batting-practice fastball, an innovation he started fooling
around with last season. The idea for it had come a few years
back when, says Finley, "[Giants manager] Dusty Baker told me,
'Man, you've got to start throwing that little nothing fastball
in games.'"

The pitch, which dips like a sinker, has helped him get ahead of
hitters more consistently. It so frustrated Tampa Bay's hitters
that some Devil Rays suggested that Finley was scuffing the
ball. "Which ones?" Finley mused. "The ones who belong in Triple
A? I don't need to cheat."

Besides his expanded repertoire, Finley attributes his success
to a newfound peace in his domestic life. Last November he
married actress Julie (Tawny) Kitaen, the sexy star of Bachelor
Party and those steamy videos for the band Whitesnake, as well
as the mother of his five-year-old daughter, Wynter. "I was a
wild man when I was young," Finley says of the days when he kept
late hours reveling in the attention of his female fans. "I
found a great girl that put up with me. I couldn't be with
anybody better. We're so much alike it's incredible--though it
did take us a few years to figure that out."

Kitaen, who's expecting the couple's second child in June, makes
regular trips to Edison International Field for games. "It kind
of takes the static out of the radio," Finley says of marital
bliss. "It's evolved into something wonderful. I'm still
pitching, and I have a wonderful family. I couldn't have
scripted anything better."

--Paul Gutierrez

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Chuck Finley and Julie (Tawny) Kitaen]