Orioles bring back Mazzilli, staff in '05

40-36 second half assures manager of a second year

Flanagan lauds rise, clubhouse aura

O's `finishing with an energy we've not seen' for long time

October 03, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Ending months of speculation after the team's disappointing first half, the Orioles will retain manager Lee Mazzilli and his entire coaching staff next season, vice president Mike Flanagan said yesterday.

Mazzilli has one year remaining on the contract he signed in November. The deal also includes two option years.

The Orioles fell into last place with a 37-48 record at the All-Star break, but they've gone 40-36 in the second half. After six straight fourth-place finishes, they are assured of ending in third.

"Maz will be back," Flanagan said before the Boston Red Sox completed their sweep of the Orioles with a 7-5 victory in Game 2.

"It was disastrous [in the first half], and to come back and have third place nailed down by as many as 10 games was quite a rush."

Under former manager Mike Hargrove, the Orioles went 4-32 to close the 2002 season and 10-24 to finish last year. Those fades ultimately cost Hargrove his job, and Mazzilli was hired in part because he was expected to bring more intensity, though he hasn't been ejected in 161 games.

"The club is finishing with an energy we have not seen in quite a while," Flanagan said. "Every day you watch them, you're going, `It doesn't feel like the season's going to be over in a few days,' the way they were really pushing. And I think that's directly attributable to Maz.

"I think his strength has been that clubhouse, to keep them playing hard."

Flanagan gave Mazzilli a strong endorsement two weeks ago, but majority owner Peter Angelos wanted to reserve judgment until after this weekend.

"It just seemed like they were playing extremely well and were focused," Flanagan said. "They were doing the things we wanted to see happen."

The Orioles were 57-59 and challenging for the wild card on Aug. 15 before losing 12 straight games. They've won 20 of their past 33 since the streak.

"They quickly made that up," Flanagan said, "and more."

Injuries began to mount again, as they usually did while Hargrove was manager.

Jerry Hairston and Luis Matos were lost for the season. David Segui, Jay Gibbons and B.J. Surhoff missed significant time. Pitchers Kurt Ainsworth and Eric DuBose underwent surgery earlier this summer. But the Orioles still had a chance to go .500 with four games remaining.

"It seems like we had multiple injuries," Flanagan said. "We had three or four early in that losing streak when we went out West and we were just searching for players to try to compete. And Maz did a good job of getting us through those. He's had to manage a lot."

Flanagan also noted how the Orioles, with two rookies in the rotation, moved ahead of the New York Yankees in team ERA. Since Ray Miller was hired as pitching coach on June 26, it was 4.16 before yesterday.

"That's quite an accomplishment for a young staff to go through the year and have numbers like that. It answers a lot of questions for us," Flanagan said. "It was draining on [Mazzilli], but I think he did a good job with the pitching."

Further evaluation of Mazzilli will come next season, since the Orioles haven't exercised his options.

"He's got a two-year deal and we'll figure out next year where we go from there," Flanagan said. "The second year of his contract is in place."

All six coaches have been invited back, though they are free to seek other jobs.

Bench coach Sam Perlozzo could interview in Seattle if manager Bob Melvin is fired. He almost beat out Melvin two years ago and has ties to the organization after coaching third base under Lou Piniella.

Mazzilli inherited Hargrove's entire staff, and the only change occurred three months ago when Miller replaced Mark Wiley, who was reassigned to a scouting role.

"This is Maz's staff," Flanagan said. "We heard it all year long about him not having his own guy, but I think as you've seen, it's worked. It's a very functional and professional staff and he wants them back."

Sun staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this article.

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