The 30-year-old admits he was rather nervous when he stepped to the plate around 6 p.m. Thursday before a soldout, screaming, orange-towel waving crowd at Camden Yards.
“Absolutely, I'd be lying if I told you no,” Markakis said. “That is part of the game, part of the job. It's a matter of controlling your emotions and staying within yourself on the big stage.”
Markakis watched three pitches, two balls and a strike, before taking his first hack, smacking a 93-mph fastball from Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer straight back to center field for his first postseason single — and the Orioles' first hit of the 2014 playoffs.
It was one of several firsts for Markakis on Thursday night. He scored his first postseason run when Nelson Cruz homered with two outs in that inning. Markakis then broke a 2-2 tie in the second with a bloop single to right field that knocked in Ryan Flaherty. It proved to be the winning run in the Orioles' 12-3 blowout, since they never trailed after that. So, yes, technically, it was his first game-winning RBI in the postseason. There is a theme here.
When Markakis was introduced before the game, the crowd erupted. His ovation rivaled Cruz's, Adam Jones' and manager Buck Showalter's for the loudest.
“It's awesome. It is everything you expect, it's everything you want, and it's everything you work for,” Markakis said. “The fans are great. Ultimately, that's why we are here. We've got, we want to think, the best fans in baseball. And it showed tonight.”
The longest tenured Orioles player, Markakis was drafted in the first round in 2003 and made his debut in 2006. He endured six consecutive seasons of 90-plus losses. And when the Orioles finally made the playoffs in 2012, Markakis had to watch from the bench.
It was one of the most deflating moments in a mostly enjoyable 2012 season in Baltimore.
In the fifth inning on Sept. 8 of that year, Markakis was struck in the hand by an inside fastball from New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. He knew immediately that his left thumb was broken. He was told he'd be sidelined for six weeks, and the postseason ran out for the Orioles before Markakis could return that year. Sabathia and the Yankees beat the Orioles in a five-game ALDS that year. So having Markakis out on the field Thursday meant something not just to him, but to his Orioles teammates as well.
“It's awesome. It's awesome. Everyone was pulling for him,” said Chris Tillman, the Orioles' winning pitcher. “It was heartbreaking that he didn't get to do it in 2012. We probably would have been a little better off with him in there. Any club would be with what Nicky brings to the team day in and day out. It's special.”
After singling in his first two at-bats, Markakis popped up in his third and softly lined out in his fourth. He walked in his final plate appearance and scored the Orioles' last run in the eight-run eighth. Overall, he was 2-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI.
He was the only Orioles player with multiple hits against Scherzer, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. More important for Markakis, who could be a free agent this winter, he finally helped the only team he has known win a playoff game.
“The butterflies were flying a little bit,” he said. “But after the first at-bat, I settled in and everybody else settled in nicely and we played a great game.”