For Markakis, There's Two Sides to the Orioles' Victory

Orioles 6, Yankees 1

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 27, 2008; Page E05

BALTIMORE, May 26 -- The Baltimore Orioles slogged through a five-game losing streak by failing to combine the three most basic elements of victory: hitting, pitching and defense. They made a flurry of mental mistakes, they executed poorly in run-scoring situations and they conceded that the misery was indeed a team effort.

But the difference in winning and losing can sometimes depend on but a single player, especially when that one man possesses the talent to singularly change the course of events for the other 24.

"There are certain guys that we rely on so much," Orioles Manager Dave Trembley said. "If they don't do it, it becomes very glaring for us."

So after the Orioles ended their losing streak by beating the streaking New York Yankees, 6-1, on a gorgeous Monday afternoon, the most encouraging development wasn't necessarily left-hander Garrett Olson's seven scoreless innings, or Aubrey Huff's clinching three-run homer or even the victory itself.

From both at the plate and in the field, the previously slumping Nick Markakis put on a show for the 34,928 gathered at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles' budding star finished 3 for 4 with a solo homer to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning, and an RBI single that helped key Baltimore's five-run outburst in the seventh.

But perhaps his most significant contribution came in the third, when from his position in right field, he threw out Johnny Damon at the plate to keep the Yankees from taking an early lead.

The throw put Markakis in the league lead with eight outfield assists. Damon said he knew entering the game that the Orioles' right fielder was among the league's best at throwing out runners, which is why he took extra care to take a healthy lead on the play. Still, Markakis's throw cut down Damon by a full two steps. Said Damon, "He's a great all-around player."

The play provided a boost to Olson, who outdueled Yankees starter Darrell Rasner to up his record to 4-1.

"I think it gave the team a lift, too," said Olson, who was hit hard by the Yankees in his last outing. "We kept going out there and battling every inning, and also his home run late in the game, I think that jump-started the offense."

During their disastrous road trip, the Orioles lost five of six games, and Markakis appeared powerless to stop it. He went just 3 for 19 on the road trip and was slapped with what Trembley called a "mental day" off partly because he had looked so bad while accumulating strikeouts at an alarming rate. He entered Monday's game with a .247 batting average.

If the Orioles had even one hot hitter in the lineup, Trembley said he would have considered moving Markakis up from the No. 3 spot, where there would be less pressure to produce. But hitting from the third spot suited Markakis just fine.

Markakis doubled in the third, breaking an 0-for-19 spell before he smashed a 422-foot bomb in the sixth inning that landed in the grass clearing that faces the batter's eye in straightaway center. The homer made Markakis 9 for 11 lifetime against Rasner, who was otherwise stingy in his six innings.

The Yankees' bullpen, however, was a different matter. Yankee relievers LaTroy Hawkins and José Veres combined to allow three straight hits, all with runners in scoring position, with the last being Huff's three-run homer to right-center.

It was possible only because Markakis kept the inning going by singling home a runner with two outs.

"He's too good of a hitter," Huff said of Markakis. "He hasn't seen a lot of good pitches to hit this year and probably, when he does, he's trying to do too much with it. That's just being young. But he's too good of a talent to struggle this long. He's not going to hit .250 all year, believe me."

After the game, Trembley ticked off the familiar list of keys to victory -- hitting, pitching and defense -- and for the first time in five games the Orioles could place check marks alongside all three categories. Of course, nearly on his own, Markakis provided two of them.

"It always feels good to hit the ball out of the park, but it's not all about hitting. You have to play defense, too," Markakis said. "Good teams play good defense. That's what I try to do."

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