Together since 2008, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis lead Orioles into playoffs

Outfield fixtures with different personalities are the club's heart and soul

(Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
September 30, 2014|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones glides through the home clubhouse in a T-shirt and basketball shorts, razzing everyone he passes with a bellowing voice and an even louder cackle.

On the other side of the room is right fielder Nick Markakis, sitting quietly at his locker, rarely looking up. Markakis' choice of nonbaseball duds is often tan and green camouflage. Earlier this season Markakis walked into Camden Yards in head-to-toe camo, looking as if he had just vacated a tree stand in the woods.

When he removed his pullover to reveal a black T-shirt underneath, reliever Ryan Webb immediately quipped, “Hey, Nick, when did you get here?” His teammates broke up laughing.

It's a typical pregame scene at Camden Yards: Jones is center stage; Markakis, the woodwork. But when the two take the field together — as they have on most summer days for the past seven seasons — they become unified partners for one purpose: capturing the Orioles' first World Series title in 31 years.

“They probably could not have two different personalities as far as how they deal with day-to-day life, how they deal with the media, how they deal with everything,” said catcher Matt Wieters, who has been teammates with both since 2009. “But when it comes down to a baseball game, those guys are doing everything they can to be a good baseball player. Off the field, they have different interests, different things they like to do. But on the field, they both have one supreme goal, which you can really see when they are out there.”

The Orioles, winners of the American League East crown, begin their pursuit of an elusive championship Thursday at Camden Yards against the AL Central-winning Detroit Tigers in the AL Division Series.

They've gotten to this point by hitting more home runs than any other major league club, with slugger Nelson Cruz leading the way with a majors-best 40. They've also gotten this far thanks to a surprisingly stingy pitching staff that posted the third-best ERA in the AL. Their starting pitching has been consistently good, their bullpen has been outstanding, and they finished tied for third in the AL in errors committed.

Simply put, the Orioles are division winners for the first time in 17 years because they've had a concerted team effort for a full season. Markakis and Jones receive much of the credit for setting that tone.

“These two are the leaders. It doesn't matter the situation they are in, they always feel for the team,” said Cruz, who is in his first year with the Orioles. “They are true athletes. True players who love the game. And the way they go about their business is really like nobody else.”

No days off

Jones, Markakis and Cruz are the only Orioles to play at least 150 games this season. Jones has played in 149 or more in each of his past five seasons; Markakis has logged 147 or more games in eight of nine, including five years with 160 or more.

“We battle every day together. We don't take any days off. We've played together more than anybody else on this team. I don't know, we've just been together,” Markakis said. “We have been through a lot of tough times here, and now we're enjoying the good times.”

In the previous 16 seasons, the Orioles made the playoffs just once, in 2012. In September of that year, Markakis broke his thumb when he was struck by a fastball from the New York Yankees' CC Sabathia. It cost him the rest of the season and his only other shot at the postseason. That's not lost on his teammates.

“I know everything about that. And I couldn't be happier for him,” said Cruz, who has played in two World Series. “I cannot be more excited about one player in particular in the playoffs than Markakis.”

As the likelihood increased that the Orioles were going to reach the postseason, Markakis tried to downplay his individual storyline, simply saying, “It's what you work for, it's what you prepare for in the offseason and through the course of a season. … You want to play in October.”

In early September, Jones started teasing Markakis for being “in shock” that the playoffs were on the horizon. When they clinched the division Sept. 16 at Camden Yards, Jones, who has been smashing pies into the faces of the club's players of the game for several seasons, grabbed a cream pie and beelined for Markakis.

Markakis, who was holding his youngest son in his left arm, barely reacted when Jones shoved the dessert into his face. Markakis stood there for a moment as if nothing had happened, and then swiped his right index finger across his cheek and put it to his little boy's lips so he could taste the treat. You could almost make out a huge smile on Markakis' face underneath the layer of cream and crumbs.

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