NEW YORK Yankees manager Joe Torre has problems of his own right now, but he still keeps an eye out for protege Lee Mazzilli and can't quite figure out why the job security of the Orioles' manager is even a matter of midseason discussion.
"I was surprised when I heard that stuff last year," Torre said. "I'm more surprised this year, because of how well they're doing. He has done a good job."
OK, so what do you expect Torre to say about one of the coaches he has sent out into the managerial talent pool - that if Maz only argued with the umpires a little more he'd get a more heartfelt endorsement? Obviously, Torre is a Mazzilli guy, but it's not just about loyalty. It's about the position that the Orioles hold in the standings vis-a-vis the rival Yankees. Like I said, Torre has his own problems right now.
"Especially after the way they've manhandled us this year," Torre said. "Other than going on one losing streak, I don't see how anybody can make that argument [that Mazzilli's contract should not be renewed]."
Torre wonders if the jury is still out on Mazzilli because he's a New York guy trying to manage a rival team in a town that takes local roots pretty seriously.
"That probably sticks in people's craws," Torre said, "but you'd think it would be enough the fact that he comes from the Yankees and they are ahead of the Yankees."
Mazzilli barely reacted to the brief controversy over his job status. There's no doubt that he would like his contract extended, but he said only that it is the team's prerogative to wait as long as it wants to decide whether to pick up his option for 2006.
"All I know is I have a task to do right now, and I am not going to worry about anything else," Mazzilli said yesterday. "There is no obligation [for the Orioles] to do anything. I have an obligation to this team, and that's what I am going to do. There are certain things that you don't have control over, and if you are worrying about other things, you are going to lose sight of what's at hand.
"This is what I have to do right now, win tonight. Everything else will always take care of itself."
Torre, who comes from a place where there is no such thing as a small controversy, said Mazzilli's experience as a player and coach in the Big Apple makes him well-suited to take the heat.
"I think he's probably gone through a little more," he said. "Playing in New York and coaching in New York, I'm not saying New Yorkers have all the answers, but you just go through a little more and you see a little bit more than other places.
"The important thing is to not let that stuff distract you."
The Sun's Web site, www.baltimoresun.com, is running a poll next to yesterday's column about Mazzilli, asking the question: "Should the Orioles give Lee Mazzilli a contract extension?"
As of midnight, nearly 700 votes had been cast and about 87 percent of respondents in the unscientific survey said Mazzilli deserves to have his option exercised. To vote in the poll, go to baltimoresun.com/mazzilli.
If anybody needs a vote of confidence right now, it's Sammy Sosa, and he got one from former Orioles great Cal Ripken, who attended Tuesday night's game with his children.
Ripken played effectively until he was 40 years old, so he doesn't believe age has caught up with Sosa at 36.
"I tend to think a lot of that is an overreaction," Ripken said. "There are no absolutes in this game. Teams go into slumps. Players go into slumps. When the slump is at the beginning of the year, it's exaggerated. He's a streaky hitter. He is going to go through streaks when everybody can get him out and streaks when nobody can get him out.
"I don't have any doubt he's going to swing the bat well."
This is what popped into my mind after Yankees rookie Chien-Ming Wang delivered a solid performance Tuesday night at Camden Yards: If I had known that you could succeed in baseball with a name like Wang, I would have worked harder on my curveball.