When Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone came here from Atlanta in October 2005, he had two goals: He wanted to win a World Series title with his best friend, manager Sam Perlozzo, and he wanted to retire as an Oriole.
Hopes of accomplishing the first evaporated last week when Perlozzo was fired, but Mazzone said yesterday that he still expects to achieve the latter.
"The way I look at it now is I love this city, I love this pitching staff and I hope to finish my career here," Mazzone said in his first public comments since Perlozzo's firing.
"This pitching staff has a chance to be something real special, and we have pitchers on this staff that have a chance to pitch at a championship-caliber level. So I am looking forward to seeing them progress and to get ourselves in the thick of something."
Mazzone, 58, established himself as one of the game's best-ever pitching coaches while helping the Atlanta Braves to a record 14 straight division titles. When he joined Perlozzo, the best man in his wedding and his longtime buddy from Cumberland, he signed a three-year deal that expires in 2008. Mazzone said he never considered walking away from the commitment, even as it became apparent Perlozzo's days were numbered.
"It never entered my mind. I know the business of professional sports," Mazzone said. "I have been in the game for 40 years, and that's part of it. Knowing how Sammy grew up and how I grew up, there is no quit in any of us."
When informed of Mazzone's comments yesterday, club executive vice president Mike Flanagan said: "I think it is a nice statement on Leo's part."
Perlozzo, reached by phone yesterday, said he felt bad about recruiting Mazzone - and first base coach Sam Mejias and third base coach Juan Samuel - and then not finishing what he started.
"I went out of my way to get him, and now I am not there," Perlozzo said. "I feel like I should have been there, and I totally expected to be there."
Once fired, Perlozzo called Mazzone to apologize - and the pitching coach quickly rebuked his friend for the comment.
"He calls me Louie, and he said, 'Louie, I am sorry,'" Mazzone said. "And I said, 'Don't you be sorry for nothing. You just take care of yourself. I'll take care of myself, and we'll hook up in the winter.'"
Still, Mazzone said, he has had to accept that he'll be here while Perlozzo, who spent a dozen years in an Orioles uniform, won't.
"It was very difficult. But I have a little something to compare it to because it was very emotional for me to leave [Braves manager] Bobby Cox and come here," Mazzone said. "And it was very emotional for me to see [Perlozzo] leave."
His 2007 pitching staff has made it easier to stay. Heading into last night, the Orioles had the sixth-best ERA in the American League (4.36) compared with the 13th in 2006, Mazzone's first year in Baltimore. And the starting rotation was third overall with an impressive 3.92 ERA.
"There is too much [talent] on this pitching staff, the groundwork has been laid, and I want to be a part of it for a long time," he said.