The New York Yankees put right-hander Mike Mussina in pinstripes today, signing the Baltimore Orioles' best pitcher to a six-year, $88.5 million deal.

"I loved playing in Baltimore, but sometimes you need to make a change," said Mussina, who will turn 32 on Dec. 8. "It seemed like [the Yankees] cared more."

Mussina's contract, which contains a blanket no-trade clause, is structured with a $12 million signing bonus paid out in installments of $2 million each year, and a salary that escalates from $8 million in 2001 to $17 million in 2006 with a club option for 2007. It makes him the third-highest pitcher in terms of average salary, behind Roger Clemens and Kevin Brown, and raises the Yankees' payroll to $77.5 million--with just 13 players signed.

The Orioles' highest offer was for $78 million over six years, with $12 million deferred without interest. The Orioles' last contact with Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, came on Friday, when majority owner Peter Angelos told him the Orioles would not improve their offer.

"There were plenty of opportunities along the way" for the Orioles to keep Mussina, Tellem said, "but those were not seized."

By signing with baseball's richest and most storied team--which is coming off its third straight World Series title--Mussina joins a rotation that includes five-time Cy Young winner Clemens, left-hander Andy Pettitte and postseason phenom Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. It gives the Yankees the best rotation in the league and arguably one of the best in recent history.

"To get a chance to represent this organization, it's exciting, and I hope I represent it as well as the people before me," Mussina said. "I thought [the Yankees] were pretty good before. Hopefully, I'm an upgrade. . . . I'm 32 years old, and I want to win a championship."

The Orioles are left with a rotation--pending the expected signing of one or two second-tier starters--headed by 23-year-old Sidney Ponson and journeyman Jose Mercedes.

"When you lose your number one [pitcher], it's a huge hole," said Manager Mike Hargrove. "But it's not a disaster for us. It leaves an opportunity open for one of our kids, and that's not an entirely bad thing in the situation we're in."

The deal came together last week, when Mussina, impressed with the Yankees' show of affection--beginning with a five-minute phone call from Manager Joe Torre less than a week after the Series ended--informed Tellem that he wanted to sign with the Yankees. Mussina was also contemplating offers from the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox but neither would grant Mussina the no-trade clause.

Still, Tellem gave Angelos the courtesy of a final phone call, which Mussina had promised to do before signing. But Angelos did not budge, and by Monday, Mussina was in New York for a physical examination and dinner with Torre.

"I still wanted to [give the Orioles the last chance] even though I was disappointed they hadn't called more," Mussina said. "I thought of what it would have taken [for the Orioles] to change my mind, and I couldn't think of anything."

Given the history of the negotiations, Mussina's insistence on giving the Orioles the final bid and the strong impression the Yankees' recruiting efforts made on Mussina, it appears the Orioles lost Mussina more than the Yankees won him, a theory Mussina did not dispute.

"If [the Orioles] really wanted me back," Mussina said, "they would have done more."

Angelos told the Baltimore Sun the difference was the Yankees' high revenue stream.

"The only reason the Yankees can do it is because they have the potential to get $100 million in cable revenues while the Orioles settle for about $25 million," Angelos said. "Give me the $100 million that they've got, and Mike Mussina would still be in Baltimore."

Tellem's last serious negotiations with Angelos came in August, and Mussina said today that the Orioles' most recent offer, made last week, would have been enough to wrap him up in August, when the Orioles were still offering $60 million over five years.

Similarly, that offer would have gotten a deal done a year ago, when Tellem and then-Orioles general manager Frank Wren discussed a deal with those parameters. According to Wren, he went to Angelos in the summer of 1999 and suggested they wrap up Mussina, but Angelos thought it was too much money.

Said Tellem: "Peter and I had differing opinions of what [Mussina's] value was."

In explaining his decision, Mussina cited factors ranging from New York's proximity to his Montoursville, Pa., home; the fact the Yankees are perennial pennant contenders and three-time defending champions; the Yankees' formidable bullpen, led by closer Mariano Rivera; the fact he will feel less pressure to win every start because the Yankees' rotation is so strong; and the stability of a team that has most of its best young players wrapped up in long-term deals.

But mostly, Mussina was struck simply by how badly the Yankees seemed to want him, beginning with Torre's phone call, which was followed by calls from players, including Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Paul O'Neill. Besides extolling the virtues of being a Yankee, they assuaged Mussina's concerns about New York, which he never liked as a visiting player.

In later phone calls and over dinner Monday night, Torre impressed Mussina with his theory of saving his starting pitchers' arms by limiting their number of pitches.

"Our pitchers have a lot left in the tank in September and October," Torre said. "We talked about how we watch our guys' pitch counts."

Hargrove did not call Mussina during the negotiating process, and Mussina said his contact from Orioles personnel was limited to "a couple" of calls from teammates and negotiating sessions with Angelos and the front office.

"It was disappointing," Mussina said.

Mussina suffered through the most frustrating season of his 10-year career, falling to an 11-15 record brought on in part by the worst run support in the American League, as the Orioles fell to a third straight fourth-place finish.

"Once Mike got away from the emotion of the season, [he realized] for the last couple of years, he wasn't that happy," Tellem said. "He realized he needed a change, to go into a positive environment and maximize his competitive years. . . . He wanted to have fun, and it wasn't fun losing."