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Finley Falters, Angels Flop, 9-3

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The thought of Chuck Finley losing a baseball game in recent weeks seemed about as improbable as, well, Jim Abbott winning one.

The left-hander had been almost invincible since May 3, going 4-0 with an 0.79 earned-run average in six starts and single-handedly keeping the pitching-poor Angels within striking distance of the Texas Rangers in the American League West.

But the Minnesota Twins humbled Finley, then hammered him, Monday night en route to a 9-3 victory in front of 10,589 in the Metrodome.

Finley, who struck out 45 in his previous 45 2/3 innings, gave up seven earned runs and 12 hits in 7 1/3 innings, one shy of his career high for hits allowed in a game.

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He gave up as many earned runs in the second inning--three--as he gave up in his previous five starts combined, and the Twins put him away in the seventh and eighth, turning a 3-3 game into a blowout.

The first game of a nine-game road trip began with the Angels squandering a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity in the first and ended with Finley (7-3) questioning whether the Angels, who fell 7 1/2 games behind the Rangers, are capable of challenging for the division title.

“If we keep playing like this, we’re going to wake up one day and be 18 games out,” Finley said. “And I underline the word, ‘We.’ In a few months, we might look back at June 1 and say, ‘Hey, remember when we were six games out?’

“I think the overall feeling is that sooner or later things are going to get better, but we’ve got to make it better. We can’t assume after the All-Star break that we’re going to kick it into gear.

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“We’ve got some great talent on this team. We’ve got to kick ourselves in the butt, or basically, we’re going to run out of days to play.”

Finley thought the Angels would ambush Twins starter Rich Robertson Monday night when Rex Hudler, Randy Velarde and Don Slaught opened the game with singles and Tim Salmon walked with the bases loaded for a 1-0 lead.

But the Angels let Robertson, who entered with a 1-7 record, off the hook when J.T. Snow struck out, Tim Wallach forced Velarde at home on a tapper back to the mound, and Garret Anderson grounded out.

“We should have buried that guy in the first inning,” Finley said. “I was expecting at least three runs.”

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So was Manager Marcel Lachemann.

“If we just make the right kinds of outs there, we get two more runs,” he said. “And with a couple of hits we get a bunch of runs.”

The Twins countered with three in the second on consecutive singles by Ron Coomer, Pat Meares and Rich Becker, a two-run double by Chuck Knoblauch and Paul Molitor’s two-out RBI single.

Salmon’s towering, bases-empty homer to left, his eighth of the season, pulled the Angels to within 3-2 in the third, and Damion Easley tied the score with a home run to center in the sixth, a 417-foot smash that was his first hit of the season and first homer since last July 6.

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Easley, who has played sparingly since being activated May 10, was a last-minute lineup addition when center fielder Jim Edmonds was scratched because of an abdomen strain.

“I didn’t know I had that in me--that’s as far as I’ve ever hit a ball,” Easley said. “When I saw it clear the wall I thought, ‘Wow, I do have more than warning-track power.’ ”

Easley didn’t have much time to celebrate. Roberto Kelly doubled off Finley with two outs in the seventh, and Velarde, the Angel second baseman, could not come up with a diving grab of Molitor’s liner up the middle, which scored Kelly for a 4-3 lead.

Molitor stole second--an almost routine occurrence against Angel catchers, who have thrown out only 22% (17 for 76) of base-stealers this season--and scored on Marty Cordova’s single to make it 5-3.

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Meares and Becker singled with one out in the eighth, ending Finley’s evening after 129 pitches, but reliever Mark Eichhorn gave up RBI singles to Mike Durant and Knoblauch, who is hitting .514 in the last 10 games. Then Kelly hit a two-run double as the Twins pulled away and Finley returned to the loss column.

“This game has humbled me quite a few times before,” Finley said. “You never take it for granted or put yourself above it at all. The ones who do usually end up on the disabled list or out of the game.”


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