Orioles manager Buck Showalter often talks about the importance of separating emotion from every play of a baseball game — every pitch, every swing, every catch.
But the swing of emotion the Orioles rode Saturday night — seeing right fielder Nick Markakis come out of the game after he was hit by a pitch in the left hand, then hearing that their leadoff hitter will miss at least six weeks with a broken left thumb — was tough for even a veteran manager like Showalter to compartmentalize.
"That's the challenge. There's no exposure of strength and weaknesses like a major league baseball season. There's no Cinderellas. There's no one feeling sorry for somebody. There's no one magic bullet that comes in and saves the day."
Showalter held out optimism that Markakis, who watched Sunday's 13-3 loss to the Yankees from the dugout, might be able to return if the Orioles play deep into the postseason, and that hope was validated Sunday.
Entering the day, surgery appeared to be a season-ending option. But after the game, Showalter said Markakis was flying Monday to Sarasota, Fla., where he is scheduled to have surgery Tuesday morning that is expected to accelerate his recovery time.
"They said the surgery should actually knock off three weeks of recovery, so hopefully we are looking at somewhere around four weeks," said Markakis, who added that a T-plate would be inserted into his thumb. "It is good news and bad news. I'm just going to go ahead and get it done and just get it out of the way."
Said Showalter: "September is not an option, so we've got to hopefully play good baseball and make October an option."
Markakis admitted that he didn't like the idea of having his third surgery this calendar year — he had offseason abdominal surgery and then surgery to remove a fractured piece of his hamate bone in his right wright — but the idea of possibly returning to the team if they played deep into October was worth it. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Brian Schofield, the same doctor that did his right wrist surgery in June.
"It's just the healing process," he said. "It's just like with my hand. It's a [broken] bone. There's no rehab process for it. It's a matter of time, so hopefully my body can recover quick and hopefully I can make a run towards the end with these guys."
In Markakis, the Orioles lost not only a Gold Glover and a player who ignited the offense from the leadoff spot once he returned from right-wrist surgery after the all-star break, but they lost their longest-tenured active player. One of the cornerstones of the franchise since his rookie season in 2006, he has played in at least 157 games in each of the past five seasons, but has never before tasted a pennant race.
"You lose a big part of your team," said Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth, who took over the leadoff spot in Markakis' absence Sunday. "You don't feel bad for the team, but you feel bad for the individual, who puts their heart into this team. He's been here awhile and hasn't gotten to experience this. He does things the right way."
The Orioles also lost veteran leadoff man and longest-tenured Oriole Brian Roberts — who returned from a 13-month absence with concussion symptoms — for the season with hip surgery after just 17 games. Left fielder Nolan Reimold, who opened the season as the team's leadoff hitter, played just 16 games after a herniated disc ended his season.
"That's why our guys, their hair stands up a little bit when they hear somebody somewhere with another club complain about injuries," Showalter said. "It's just part of our game. It really tugs your heart when you have guys like those three guys, because you know how much the Orioles mean to them and to participate in something like this in this time of the year.
"I think more than anything, it tugs at your heart. I think no matter how hardened you get by this game, if you don't have some sensitivity to that, then you lose me."
The Orioles have overcome several injuries this season — 16 different players have gone on the disabled list this season and Markakis will be the eighth on the current DL — but Markakis might be the biggest obstacle to overcome.
The Orioles used seven different options in the leadoff spot, but none were as successful as Markakis, who hit .335/.390/.489 in 54 starts atop the lineup. The Orioles had a 33-21 record when Markakis hit leadoff. The Orioles plan to select the contract of veteran outfielder Endy Chavez, who made 19 starts in the leadoff position earlier this season before he was designated for assignment on Aug. 4 and later outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.
Showalter said the team will look at opportunities outside the organization to help replace Markakis, but Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said he will initially look from within.
"We are going to see if we have some options in-house first," Duquette said Sunday.
Chris Davis will see more time in right field, as will Lew Ford. More designated-hitter opportunities will become available to Wilson Betemit, one of the team's top hitters against right-handed pitching. Rookie Xavier Avery could be another option in right field and maybe at the top of the order. He made 15 starts at leadoff earlier this year.
"It's going to be tough," Davis said. "[Markakis] has been nothing but incredible since he has been back. We do have the luxury of having a bunch of guys that we called up in September that can kind of rotate in there, pinch-run, do stuff that we need them to do. But you can't replace a guy like Nick Markakis. Obviously, it gives us more incentive to go out there and win and stay in it as long as we can and give him a chance to come back."
This Orioles team has overcome its share of adversity, but every obstacle presented opportunity for another player. Showalter hopes the team will rally in his absence much like Markakis did when Showalter desperately needed a leadoff man at the break, a move that might have been one of the best decisions all year.
"It's kind of the example that guys like Nick set for everybody," Showalter said. "'What's the team need? If this is what the team needs, let's go.'
"But I don't think anybody's coming in here trying to replace Nick."