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Another Royal Pain in the Arm for Finley

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pondering the Angels’ long and legendary history of misfortune, Chuck Finley once speculated that their stadium could have been constructed over an ancient Indian burial ground.

The way things have been going for the veteran left-hander the last couple of seasons, folks might want to check the previous land use of the hospital where he was born before checking into the maternity ward.

It’s a tough enough world to grow up in. Why take a chance with some kind of a bizarre jinx?

Finley, baseball’s No. 1 freak-injury victim, was struck by yet another projectile Friday night when a line drive off the bat of Kansas City’s Jeff King hit him on the left elbow in the fourth inning of the Royals’ 4-3 victory in front of 18,151 at Kauffman Stadium.

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The ball ricocheted into foul territory near first base as Finley hopped around in agony before collapsing on the infield grass. He was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital where X-rays revealed no broken bones. He will be reevaluated Sunday.

“That’s about as hard as you can hit a ball,” catcher Matt Walbeck said. “He absolutely crushed it. Thank God nothing was broken, but he’s certainly going to be sore.

“I was just shaking my head. It’s just impossible to explain why this keeps happening to him.”

Maybe that new platinum hair serves as some kind of a bull’s-eye.

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“It’s really unbelievable,” said seemingly shellshocked Manager Terry Collins.

Royals’ pitching coach Bruce Kison said a scout told him the ball was traveling at 103 mph when it struck Finley. It was the third time this season Finley had to leave a game because of an injury and the second time a line drive has struck his pitching arm. Chicago’s Chad Kreuter nailed him in the left forearm on May 2.

Last Saturday, Toronto’s Joe Carter pulled a missile into the dugout that struck Finley--is this what he calls good luck?--on the right forearm.

Three days earlier, he had ripped open a gash in his knee after sliding on both knees while covering first base. During spring training in 1997, he suffered a broken bone in his face when bat flew out of the hands of reliever Mike James. And in August of last year, he broke his left wrist when he slipped and fell awkwardly while backing up home plate.

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On Friday, the score was tied, 1-1, when King reached first after slamming the ball off Finley. Shigetoshi Hasegawa came on in relief and gave up a double to Shane Mack. King scored on Terry Pendleton’s sacrifice fly to left and Mike Sweeney doubled to score Mack.

Mendy Lopez got an infield single when third baseman Dave Hollins looked at second, then third before throwing late to first and Sweeney scored on a fielder’s choice.

“I was in the bathroom when [Finley’s injury] happened,” Hasegawa said, “and when I came back, I said, ‘What’s going on.’ Then I saw [a replay] up there on the [scoreboard].

“It is the fourth time [replacing an injured pitcher] for me. I think I was ready [physically], but the problem for me was in my mind. Maybe I needed to go off the mound and take deep breaths.”

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Hasegawa and Rich DeLucia combined to hold the Royals to just one hit after the fourth and Cecil Fielder followed Darin Erstad’s second hit of the night with a homer to left in the sixth, cutting the Royals’ lead to one.

But the Angels went meekly after that with Royals’ closer Jeff Montgomery striking out the side in the ninth to pick up his 24th save in his 27th opportunity.

“Hopefully, you don’t worry about what happened to Chuck after he’s out of the game,” Collins said. “You have to just go out there and continue to play. And we did that. Cecil got us back in the game.”

Walbeck said the Angels, who have been through this enough to know the routine, didn’t start worrying about their fallen comrade until they returned to the clubhouse.

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“I think it’s a sign of the character of this team,” he said. “We’ve dealt with these injuries, to [Tim] Salmon, [Jack] McDowell, [Ken] Hill, [Allen] Watson, all season. We’ve got another game [today], so we don’t have time to pout about our bad luck.”

Then he turned back to his locker and said softly, “I just can’t believe this. And Chuck’s got a four-leaf clover too.”


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