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Finley shows staying power

Looking at the youthful face and chiseled physique, it doesn't seem possible that 15 years have passed since Steve Finley made his major league debut with the Orioles.

Fifteen years since he stood in right field on Opening Day, waiting for his first fly ball - one that he chased all the way to the fence, crashing into it while making a leaping catch and spraining his right shoulder.

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That play did more than put Finley on the disabled list. It also revealed a reckless abandon that had some observers predicting a short career, given the abuse his body was destined to take on a nightly basis.

So what was Finley doing at Camden Yards last week, ranking among the National League's home run leaders with 17, including a two-run shot Thursday that ruined Daniel Cabrera's no-hit bid, in a season when little else has gone right for the Arizona Diamondbacks?

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The video tribute, greeted with silence from a crowd unable to get sentimental over anyone whose last name isn't Ripken or Robinson, came as Finley, 39, sat in the visitors' dugout. The only short part of his career was the time spent with the Orioles.

"It's nice to come back here," he said. "It's nice to play in the new stadium, to see how the downtown area has changed. Baltimore was always a great city."

It served as his baseball home for two years, before his trade to Houston. He was part of a youthful, lightning-fast outfield that included Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux.

They were close in age and ability, an unbeatable three-man relay team, but Finley is the last one active in the group. And judging by his production this year, he's not ready to slow down.

"I still feel like a little kid. I still feel like Brady should be playing and I feel like Mike should be playing," he said. "But baseball's a funny game sometimes. Little things happen, and all of a sudden you're not playing anymore."

Anderson was the center fielder when Finley sacrificed his body for a fly ball in the 1989 opener, an appropriate beginning to the "Why not?" season, when anything seemed possible.

The two players seemed to come from the same mold, built for speed more than power. But Anderson went on to hit 50 homers in 1996, the same year Finley smacked 30 with the San Diego Padres after never exceeding 11. He had 34 and 35 in consecutive seasons with the Diamondbacks.

"I could always drive the ball in batting practice, but their philosophy here was to swing down on the ball," Finley said. "I matured and learned my swing. In San Diego, I started thinking about driving the ball a little more and started hitting it out of the park."

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Finley left Camden Yards after Thursday's game with 266 career homers, 56 more than Anderson, who spent 14 seasons with the Orioles. They spoke on the phone Wednesday afternoon before batting practice.

"The first few years, he hit some impressive home runs. He just didn't do it as consistently," Anderson said. "I'm not surprised by his power, and I'm glad he decided that's what type of hitter he'd become. I always thought he had amazing hitting skills and he could compete for a batting title."

Black-and-blue D'backs

In a division where four teams could go 80-82 and nobody would flinch, the Diamondbacks have an easier time finding excuses than wins.

They had to summon two more players from Triple-A Tucson last week when catcher Brent Mayne and infielder Carlos Baerga went on the disabled list. Arizona has a team-record 11 on the DL, including Richie Sexson, who's done for the year.

Of the 25 players on the active roster, nine are rookies and 10 began the year in the minors. Sixteen spent at least part of last season in the minors. Nineteen are making $500,000 or less.

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"It's unbelievable," Baerga said. "I've never been on a team that gets so many players hurt."

Nomo may be nearing end

Is Hideo Nomo finished? Those are the whispers coming out of Los Angeles, and the evidence is mounting.

Returning from the disabled list Tuesday, Nomo was knocked around in a 7-1 loss in Toronto.

The first two batters doubled. By the end of the inning, Nomo had issued a walk to load the bases and allowed a two-out, two-strike single to Chris Woodward that scored two runs.

Nomo (3-6) gave up five runs and threw 100 pitches in five innings, which would qualify him as the Orioles' staff ace.

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The good news? There was no recurrence of the split fingernail that sidelined Nomo for three weeks, and the Blue Jays didn't hit a home run. But his velocity is down, and Nomo no longer resembles the pitcher who won 16 games in each of the past two years.

Griffey and the jinx

Ken Griffey's pursuit of his 500th home run put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the ninth time, and in danger of being jinxed.

"Nothing I can do but enjoy it," he said. "I save them all."

Teammates have been avoiding Griffey since he hit Nos. 497 and 498 last weekend. If there's going to be a jinx, it won't come from inside the clubhouse.

"They really don't talk to me," he said. "I'm like the guy with a no-hitter. It's just one of those things that happens when guys get close to something. Everybody else stays away from them. Guys start moving out of the way when you walk into the dugout.

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"I ran into Wily [Mo Pena] and he's like, 'Excuse me.' And I ran into him."

Hitchcock's misfortune

It also might be wise to avoid Padres pitcher Sterling Hitchcock, whose luck won't win many hands at blackjack.

Hitchcock has suffered a strained groin muscle six times this year, the latest coming on an injury rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Portland. He also fractured a rib April 6.

Frustrated by his misfortune, Hitchcock is contemplating retirement at the age of 33. The Padres, who gave him $800,000 to be their fifth starter, hope he'll reconsider.

Twins turning on the jets?

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Add the Detroit Tigers to the list of teams accusing the Minnesota Twins of having an unfair advantage when stadium workers turn on the blowers.

Rondell White lost a home run last weekend when his ninth-inning fly ball died at the left-field fence with the Twins leading 6-5.

Before the game, Tigers pitching coach Bob Cluck attached a piece of paper to a vent behind home plate to test the ventilation system. Players say it hung loose until the ninth, when they saw it pressed against the vent.

"That POW flag [in left field] looked like it was in a thunderstorm," bench coach Kirk Gibson said. "They had that thing cranked."

Pirates under cloud, too

The Orioles aren't the only rain kings in baseball. There's room in the court for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had their seventh and eighth postponements while visiting Texas last week.

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Six of the postponements have come since May 12, and Thursday's doubleheader was the seventh scheduled for the Pirates this season.

"There's nothing you can do about it," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "You just try to make the best of it."

Quote of the week

Umpire Rick Reed has submitted a claim that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Roger Cedeno spit on him after being ejected from a 7-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Cedeno denies the charge, but Reed isn't buying it.

"He definitely meant to spray and he definitely did," Reed said. "I needed a windshield wiper after he was done."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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THEATER OF THE ABSURD

How does a team strike out 26 times and still win? The Milwaukee Brewers weren't sure after becoming the first club to do it Tuesday in a 1-0, 17-inning victory over the Anaheim Angels.

Both sides were debating whether the game was defined by outstanding pitching or lousy hitting. Either way, it lasted almost five hours and left the participants dazed and confused. And pretty darn hungry, though the clubhouse meal lost its appeal after sitting out for so long.

"It was a little dried out," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "There wasn't much cream left in the creamed corn."

Milwaukee outfielder Geoff Jenkins became the eighth player in major league history to strike out six times in a game. "That was a first, but good players break records," Jenkins quipped. "Remember that: Good players break records."

TEAM RANKINGS

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1. Yankees (1)

Just when they turned their backs to the entire division, Kevin Brown injures his.

2. Red Sox (4)

Anyone recognize the new guy at shortstop?

3. Athletics (10)

Enough arms to carry this team to the division title.

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4. Cardinals (6)

Best road team in the majors.

5. Marlins (3)

Won't be baited into a long losing streak.

6. Reds (5)

The color comes from embarrassment after a three-game sweep against the Athletics.

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7. Twins (11)

Take the division ... please.

8. Rangers (8)

Injured starter Chan Ho Park begins his long-toss program. Somehow gives up 10 runs.

9. White Sox (7)

Billy Koch apologizes to fans after another blown save. Also feels guilt over the team wearing shorts in the '70s.

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10. Angels (2)

Injuries so bad, Kelvim Escobar cut himself shaving points off his ERA.

11. Astros (13)

Roger Clemens takes his friendship with Andy Pettitte too far; strains his forearm on purpose.

12. Padres (14)

David Wells returns to the Bronx this weekend. As a promotion, the first 20,000 fans get a free cholesterol check.

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13. Dodgers (15)

Inspired by Rick Monday, Milton Bradley tackles a fan trying to burn a CD.

14. Phillies (9)

Frustrated by the team's failure to meet expectations, Larry Bowa ejects himself from a game.

15. Giants (12)

Create huge wave of excitement in Baltimore with Neifi Perez coming to town.

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16. Cubs (17)

LaTroy Hawkins says he won't talk to the media anymore. The media thanks him.

17. Braves (16)

Chipper Jones' 453-foot homer the longest ever at Comerica Park.

18. Brewers (20)

Geoff Jenkins goes to a singles bar, strikes out four times.

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19. Orioles (18)

Trying to sign Jeffrey Hammonds to add depth to the disabled list.

20. Mets (19)

Tom Glavine has 11 quality starts in 13 outings, but little run support.

21. Tigers (22)

If the Pistons win the NBA title, Alan Trammell plans to celebrate by burning out his bullpen.

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22. Blue Jays (23)

Still waiting for the Orioles to get evicted from third place.

23. Indians (24)

Beat the Marlins for the first time since the '97 Series. Back home, Albert Belle destroys his own thermostat.

24. Diamondbacks (27)

Scott Hairston checking to see if Brian Roberts has a younger brother.

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25. Devil Rays (28)

Bud Selig says they need a new stadium. Also observes how the sun makes things hot.

26. Mariners (26)

Injured outfielder Raul Ibanez to start baseball-related activities. The rest of the team should try it.

27. Pirates (21)

Has anyone seen Craig Wilson and Jack Wilson in the same room?

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28. Royals (29)

Either Ken Harvey leads the AL in batting or we're printing the rankings upside down.

29. Rockies (25)

Hoping Tony Soprano whacks the rest of their schedule.

30. Expos (30)

Just lost two of three to the '62 Mets.

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(Last week's ranking in parentheses)


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