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YORK -- Hot for more than a month, Nate McLouth saw red for an entire inning Thursday night.
Leading off the fifth, the Orioles left fielder drilled a fastball out to right at Yankee Stadium. Then, in the bottom of the inning, he made a leaping catch at the wall as he crashed into an electronic red sign he said was blindingly bright. That saved a run and started an inning-ending double play.
"I mean, it almost blinded me," McLouth said of the State Farm sign.
Before the O's took Game 4 of the American League Division Series, 2-1, over the Yankees in 13 innings, McLouth's homer was Baltimore's only run for 12 innings.
The O's leadoff man has been their best hitter this series, and he homered on a 1-2 pitch from Yanks starter Phil Hughes that got too much of the plate. That put Baltimore up, 1-0, and came after McLouth had walked and doubled in his first two plate appearances.
"It was obviously a mistake," said McLouth, who's hitting .333 (6-for-18) with two runs scored and three RBIs in the series. "I think [Hughes] was trying to come in and didn't get it there. But you know, to get us on the board there, to get a lead there, it was the fifth inning, it was nice. I put a pretty good swing on it."
McLouth has hits in all four games of the series, coming off his hottest month of the season, September, when he posted a .298/.372/.491 line. At an opportune time like this, he said he's feeling as good as he has all year.
"I really do," McLouth said. "It's funny, when you feel good, and you get good pitches, you don't miss 'em. When you're struggling, you'll foul those pitches back. I just, yeah, I've been able to slow things down at the plate, and I think that's kind of what any hitter will tell you when they're feeling pretty good. They're able to stay under control."
The catch in the bottom of the inning was remarkable in itself. The 7-6-3 double play he started with a relay to J.J. Hardy made it that much sweeter.
The Yankees had a runner on first base with one out, and Jayson Nix, starting at shortstop in place of Derek Jeter, hit a deep drive to left. McLouth raced back to the left-field wall, leapt and came up with it as his left side hit against the sign. His jump was well-timed, so he didn't hit the wall with overwhelming force.
"That's that deep part out there," McLouth said. "I went back, I knew it was going to be close to the wall. And I took my eye off the ball for a second and it was kind of weird, because when I took my off the ball, I looked right into -- there's like a bright red State Farm [sign] out there -- and I mean it almost blinded me. Because I wanted to check where the wall was, but I just happened to look right at that bright sign, and it kind of threw me off for a second. But I was able to pick up the ball again when I looked back."
Essentially, McLouth preserved the shutdown inning, and all the momentum he himself had created with the home run.
From his vantage point, catcher Matt Wieters wasn't sure McLouth had a chance at the ball, but he wasn't surprised by the play. To Wieters, the O's have two center fielders: one playing that position, Adam Jones, and the other playing left, McLouth.
"I didn't know he had it, but I knew if he had a chance, Nate was going to come down with the ball," Wieters said. "He ran a long way for that ball, and was able to get it and make a good throw to J.J. to get a double play. That was a huge out in the game, and something that gave us a little bit of relief, to get back in the dugout with the lead."