Nate McLouth is next man up for Orioles

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.

Despite primarily batting third the last month, he looked relaxed and confident in all four at-bats. No, he wasn't raking like Markakis — no one else in the league was except the Yankees' Derek Jeter and the Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon.

But McLouth is no novice batting lead-off, and it showed. In 608 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves before coming to the O's, he batted lead-off 281 times.

"I've done it before," he said with a shrug. "And I literally don't care where I bat in the order. It doesn't affect me one way or the other."

This is how McLouth goes about his job. He's low-key in the clubhouse and taciturn with the media.

In his bio, there's a helpful note that says the man's name rhymes with "mouth." Which is a laugh, because there probably isn't a less-mouthy guy on the Orioles' 40-man roster.

If McLouth played the hero in one of those old Westerns, he'd be the guy who rides into town, wipes out the bad guys, then squirts tobacco juice in the dust and says: "Just doing my job, folks."

So don't look for him to get all wired about being the Orioles' new lead-off batter. In fact, the only time he became animated about his new role Sunday was when someone suggested he'd be able to use his speed more now.

"I think that's a good point," he said, "because hitting third and having (Adam) Jones and (Matt) Wieters right behind me, a lot of times you want to let those guys hit and not rush making an out on the basepaths ..."

But leading off, he said, will "be a good chance for me to maybe get in scoring position quicker and be there when those guys come up."

At least for now, the job is his. Now we'll see what he does with it.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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