BALTIMORE (AP) – Forced to choose between friendship and pinstripes, Leo Mazzone went with his heart.

After being wooed by the New York Yankees, the esteemed pitching coach agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles, the team managed by his best friend, Sam Perlozzo.

Mazzone leaves Atlanta, where he had six Cy Young Award winners and nine 20-game winners during a 151/2-year run with the Braves. The move unites Perlozzo, hired as manager earlier this month, with Mazzone, who served as best man at his wedding.

“The reason I’m coming to Baltimore is because Sam Perlozzo is the manager,” Mazzone said in a conference call Friday.

A West Virginia native, the 57-year-old Mazzone was raised in Cumberland, Md., where he grew up with Perlozzo. Mazzone’s parents still live in Maryland, yet another factor in his decision to leave Atlanta and spurn a generous offer from the Yankees, who are seeking to replace pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

“It was very tempting. When I was a young boy, I grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford,” Mazzone said. “I think Joe Torre would be great to work with. But the bottom line for me is to be with Sam Perlozzo and the Baltimore Orioles in my home state.”

He will be paid well for his services. Although terms of the contract were not released, Mazzone will receive a significant raise over the reported $250,000 he was making under his year-to-year arrangement with the Braves.

“I talked to Leo and I think he’s going home and that’s a big thing if a guy can do that,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. “I think it’s a good situation for him. He had a wonderful 15 years here and we move on.”

Mazzone replaces Ray Miller, who began his third stint as Baltimore’s pitching coach in June 2004. Miller recently underwent successful surgery for an aortic aneurism and is recuperating.

“I want to thank Ray Miller for all he did, for his support and his professionalism. Ray did an outstanding job and we remain good friends,” Perlozzo said. “Leo and I have been best friends for a long time and have always said that if I get the chance to manage, he would be my pitching coach. I’m glad for us that it will happen, but I’m really happy for the Orioles organization that Leo has joined the club. His record speaks for itself.”

Under Mazzone, the Braves pitching staff finished first or second in the National League in ERA in 12 of the last 14 seasons. During his tenure, 10 different pitchers were named to the NL All-Star team.

“He’s been part of one of the great pitching legacies in baseball,” Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said.

This season the Braves lost three members of the starting rotation and utilized a young bullpen, but Atlanta still won its 14th straight NL East title and finished sixth in the league with a 3.98 ERA.

“Leo Mazzone has proven to be among the best coaches in the game, and we believe he can help both our young and veteran pitchers take the next step in becoming proven winners,” said Mike Flanagan, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations. “We believe this is a real coup for the ballclub and is another step in the process of turning the team into a consistent winner.”

Mazzone inherits a staff that compiled a 4.56 ERA in 2005, Baltimore’s eighth consecutive losing season.

“I know they have a lot of good young arms,” he said. “I’m sure we can improve what’s there. Who knows what can happen? I know I was in a similar situation with Atlanta in June 1990, and hopefully we can do the same thing in Baltimore.”

In return for allowing the Orioles to talk with Mazzone, the Braves received minor league pitcher Moises Hernandez. The 21-year-old was 0-4 with a 3.08 ERA at Class A Aberdeen.

AP-ES-10-21-05 1644EDT

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