Mazzone Rocks Around The Clock

The Nationals' Jose Vidro singles in the first of 11 games between Washington and Baltimore this season, including five in spring training.
The Nationals' Jose Vidro singles in the first of 11 games between Washington and Baltimore this season, including five in spring training. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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By Thomas Boswell
Monday, March 6, 2006

VIERA, Fla.

Leo Mazzone sat in the Orioles' dugout at 11 a.m. on Sunday. The pitching coach was already swaying, back to front, as he perched on the bench. Leo, chill, the game doesn't start for two hours. Save the famous Mazzone mojo magic for a tight spot.

"The World Baseball Classic has four of my five starting pitchers. I can't work with my own rotation until they get back," grumped Mazzone. Sometimes, you've just got to start worrying and incanting to the baseball gods a little early in the day.

A few feet away, Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo was standing and talking about Mazzone, his lifelong "best friend." The pair grew up together in Cumberland, Md., then throughout their lives kept crossing paths on the baseball trail, always vowing that someday, somehow, they'd end up on the same team. Perlozzo was even the best man at Mazzone's wedding.

Imperceptibly at first, then more markedly as he talked, Perlozzo began to sway from side to side, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, as he talked about Mazzone. Is this snake-charming habit contagious?

"Sammy, you can't sway when you talk about Leo," somebody teased Perlozzo.

"When we're on the bench sitting next to each other, sometimes I catch myself swaying back and forth, just like he does," Perlozzo said. "I've got to stop that." Otherwise the cameramen, then the comedians will have a field day: Will the Orioles be the first team to have Bobble Head Day and give away the real manager and pitching coach?

The Orioles arrived here to play the Nationals for the first of 11 times this season -- five of them in the exhibition season. A Battle of the Beltways? Get serious. These teams have far too much to worry about to start worrying about each other, especially the Orioles, who haven't matched the Nationals' .500 record in '05 in their last eight seasons.

When you're coming off 74-88 and the pitching coach is your major offseason acquisition, you've got plenty on your mind. At least, in the Orioles' case, they have two first-rate baseball minds -- in Perlozzo and Mazzone -- working on the problems. Perlozzo may be a remarkable upgrade over Lee Mazzilli, who had to rely on his subordinates to lip-sync strategy for him so much that he became known as Milli Mazzilli.

With the Braves, Mazzone helped produce the No. 1 or No. 2 pitching staff in the National League in 12 of the last 14 seasons. Mazzone became so famous, often at the expense of low-key Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox, that the issue of celebrity coach may have loosened the Mazzone-Braves bond.

However, the true key to the Orioles landing Mazzone was his friendship with Perlozzo, stretching back to high school days, when Mazzone was a baseball rival of one of Perlozzo's older brothers. The Orioles have one obvious potential strength -- a five-man pitching rotation that is young, only half-developed, but might become extremely good. Enter Mazzone, who deliberately keeps a low profile these days, deflecting attention to his old buddy who waited so long for his first chance to be a major league manager. True to type, Perlozzo couldn't care less. He's always been understatedly confident in himself and just shifts the focus back on Mazzone.

"Leo says he thinks that Daniel Cabrera [10-13, 4.52 ERA] can be a number one starter on a pennant-winning team and that Erik Bedard [6-8, 4.00] can be a number two on a pennant-winning team," Perlozzo says. "We'll see. We certainly think they have the potential to be outstanding pitchers."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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