Nate McLouth is next man up for Orioles

Will replace Markakis as lead-off hitter, seems OK with it

Less than 24 hours after losing Nick Markakis for the regular season with a broken thumb, the Orioles were over the shock and any accompanying woe-is-me vibe that might have rippled through their clubhouse.

And the guy in the spotlight was definitely Nate McLouth.

What a spot McLouth finds himself in. He's been with the Orioles a little over a month since being called up from Triple A- Norfolk. And now the speedy 30-year-old outfielder will be asked to bat leadoff in a pennant race and help fill the shoes of the player who's been the Orioles' chief offensive igniter the past two months.

All Marakis did before taking a 92-miles-per-hour fastball from C.C. Sabathia on his thumb was bat .335 since the All-Star break with a .390 on-base percentage. All he did was bang out 73 hits since the break, second-most in the league over that span.

No pressure, Nate McLouth.

And actually, McLouth himself says he feels none.

"You have to be yourself," McLouth said Sunday after the 13-3 spanking the Yankees laid on the Orioles at Camden Yards to regain first place in the division. "I don't compare myself to other players.

"(Markakis) is a phenomenal player no matter where he hits in the lineup. I try to do the things I'm good at and see what happens."

Buck Showalter certainly doesn't want to put any extra pressure on McLouth, either.

In fact, one of the things Showalter does best is reduce the burden of expectations on his players and help them relax. Showalter's like a double shot of bourbon that way.

But the Orioles' manager is also big on quoting lines — inspirational and otherwise — from movies. And before Sunday's game, during which Markakis was in the dugout wearing a huge cast on his left arm and a hangdog expression, the O's manager dusted off one of his favorite lines from "Apollo 13."

It's from the scene in the somber control room after there's been an explosion aboard the the space capsule and the realization has set in that the crew is in mortal danger.

"This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced," a NASA official says tightly.

Which is when Ed Harris, playing Gene Kranz, the unflappable flight director, answers: "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour."

Showalter's message: maybe somebody else steps up and fills the void left by Markakis' injury.

Maybe somebody else helps the Orioles to their "finest hour" in this dogfight for the AL East title.

And who knows? Maybe that somebody is McLouth.

McLouth did his job in that Sunday train-wreck of a loss to the Yankees, that's for sure.

In the fourth inning, he drew a walk and scored on Wilson Betemit's double to right-center field.

And in the fifth inning, he drew a two-out walk and stole second with J.J. Hardy at the plate, easily beating Yankee catcher Russell Martin's throw with a pop-up slide.

 

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