Five Good Hits from One Good Hitter

Nick Markakis collected the 1,500th hit of his Major League career yesterday afternoon in Baltimore.  One would think that an avid fan of the Orioles would be able to rattle off with ease at least a handful of memorable hits from a 1,500 hit player that has spent his entire nine year career in Baltimore.  I thought so, too until I sat down to write a quick blog post on Nick’s five most memorable hits.  It ended up being a less straightforward task than anticipated.

Markakis might have a lot of hits, but he does not have many instantly memorable ones.  He has never hit a game winning walk off home run.  He does have eight walk-off hits but none of those classify as all that momentous (in typical Nick fashion, seven of the eight walk-offs were singles and the other was a sacrifice fly).  He’s never gotten the chance to collect a hit in the postseason (thanks again, C.C.) and has never played in an All-Star game for one reason or another.

In the end, the fact that Nick does lack those instantly recallable hits is totally fitting of his personality and the kind of player he is.  He is not flashy.  He has never truly had a standout offensive skill, relying on consistency and well-roundedness instead.   He doesn’t seek the spotlight.  When asked about the accomplishment of achieving 1,500 major league hits, Nick simply noted that it was “cool” before adding that he doesn't “look at things like that.”

The idea that the quiet, businesslike and unassuming Markakis has a lot of hits, but few truly memorable ones is poetic in a way.  So rather than sell this is as a list of Nick’s greatest hits, consider this a somewhat random sample of some of Nick’s more notable hitting moments.

***********

(05/18/12) at Washington Nationals
Some 2012 Orioles Magic
MLB.com Video

In May of 2012, when the Orioles traveled to DC for the annual Battle of the Beltways, the club was viewed as a bad team that had simply got off to a hot start.  Every victory – especially over a good team like Washington – felt extra special that year.  Each win was one additional feather in the cap of Orioles fans everywhere who quickly grew tired of hearing how their team was a fluke.  Big hits felt REALLY big in 2012.  Normally mundane hits sometimes turned into memorable ones.

Nick entered the batter’s box in the top of the 11th inning of this 1-1 game to face Washington reliever Ryan Mattheus.  The bases were empty and the score had been knotted at one since the 6th inning.  With one out and a 2-2 count, Nick sent an inside pitch from Mattheus soaring over the right field wall and way into the seats for a homerun.  As unassuming as he is, Nick knows a no-doubter when he sees one and allowed himself a moment of showmanship by capping off his swing with a millisecond pose and then a skip before settling into his normal homerun trot.   The run would standup and the Orioles – on their way to their first playoff berth in fourteen years – would pick up another big victory.

***********

(06/30/09) vs. Boston Red Sox
Capping off the ‘Greatest Comeback’

Down 10-1 in the bottom of the 7th inning, this late June game looked a lot like many Orioles/Red Sox games from that time period.  The Red Sox were up big and the game was out of reach.  Been there, done that.  Even after the O’s scored five runs to cut the deficit to “just” four runs, a win still felt impossibly out of reach.  However, after three runs scored in the 8th with only one out recorded and runners at first and second, suddenly a once unwinnable game seemed a bit more attainable.

Well, at least for a moment it did.

Sensing the game slipping away, the Red Sox called on closer Jonathan Papelbon no snuff out the rally.  Paplebon – who owned the Orioles up until this point in time – seemed to be on his way to doing just that after making relatively easy work of Felix Pie to record the second out of the 8th inning.  The Birds would still get one more chance in the bottom of the ninth if they failed to score in the 8th, but for everyone watching at the time it felt like the opportunity was now or never.  Nick was the Orioles “last” (realistic) hope.

Swinging at the very first pitch he saw from the flame throwing right-hander, Nick struck a low-and-away fastball into left centerfield.  The ball split the gap and took a couple of hops to the fence.  Pinch runner Jeremy Guthrie (yes, that’s pinch runner Jeremy Guthrie) scored from second with Brian Roberts scoring all the way from first.  Nick hustled into third base on the throw home but the damage was already done.  With one swing, Markakis capped off an historic 10-run comeback for the Orioles that still stands as the greatest comeback in franchise history.

***********

(08/22/06) vs. Minnesota Twins
Carlos Silva’s Worst Nightmare 

Due to a very good spring campaign and the fact that the Orioles simply had no better options, Nick found himself on the 2006 opening day roster for the Orioles even though he had a mere 142 plate appearances at the AA level or above.  He got off to a very slow start (.182/.270/.288 at the end of April while playing every day) but by the time the Twins came to town he was having the kind of rookie season the Orioles hoped he would have with a slash line of .301/.365/.437.

The best, however, was still to come.

In his first two plate appearances against Minnesota starter Carlos Silva, Nick went deep.  Both homeruns were solo shots but they nonetheless helped stake the Orioles to a 4-1 lead.  Leading off the 5th inning – in his third at bat of the game – Nick made some Orioles history by becoming only the 14th Oriole (since the team relocated to Baltimore in 1954) to have a 3-homerun game.  If it wasn’t already clear to Orioles fans that Markakis was a special player, that third homerun cemented it.

***********

(04/05/06) vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The First of Many 

Nick made his Orioles debut on April 3rd, coming off the bench as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning of the season opener.  Scott Kazmir was on the mound for the Rays that day and Sam Perlozzo chose to bench the lefty Markakis against the lefty starting pitcher.  Two days later, Nick received his first Major League starting assignment.  However, he would not get his first official at bat until much later in the game, as he opened his career with three consecutive walks.  In the 6th, Nick got his first at bat out of the way with a fly ball to left field, but he was still hitless in his first Major League contest.

That changed in 8th.  Leading off the inning, Nick worked Rays’ reliever Miceli to a 3-2 count (with a sixth pitch foul ball thrown in for good measure).  On the seventh pitch of the at bat, the rookie outfielder got a pitch he could handle and he drove it into the centerfield seats.  The blast was only the first homerun of his career, but his first major league career hit as well.

***********

(08/03/14) vs. Seattle Mariners
Getting #1,499 in Style
MLB.com Video

Starting the day of August 3rd with 1,498 career hits to his name, Markakis stepped into the batter’s box to face tough Seattle right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma as the lead-off batter in the bottom of the first inning.  The O’s likely knew runs would be at a premium with a tough pitcher on the mound to go along with their currently struggling offense.  They probably just didn’t realize how much of a premium they would be at.

As is his tendency, Nick worked the count in his favor at 3-2.  Iwakauma – who makes his living down in the zone – might a slight mistake by leaving a slider up and in.  It was a pitch that Nick had seen earlier in the bat, but failed to capitalize on.  This time, he didn’t miss.  The ball landed at the backend of the flag court, just missing Eutaw Street.  The big blast put the O’s on the board early on and gave Markakis his ninth long ball of the season.

It would also so happen to be the only run scored on the day.

Markakis’ leadoff homerun decided the game as the Orioles edged out the Mariners by a score of 1-0.  That one homerun was littered with memorable milestones.  First off, it moved Markakis just one hit away from 1,500 for his career, milestone he would get out of the way in his very next at bat.  It was also his first leadoff homerun and the when the game was over, it became the first time the Orioles won a 1-0 game on a lead off homerun.

For many, that would be a hit to remember and talk about.  For Markakis, it was just another day at the office.  “I didn't even know that (it was my first leadoff homer)," he told reports. "I don't know what to say to it. Good to get the first one out of the way, right?”

For the ever steady Markakis, one hit is no more important or memorable than any other.