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."