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Pirates

McLouth leads the way

| Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008

When Nate McLouth hit .226 with one home run in August, cynics figured it was an overdue correction.

"You start hearing some grumblings that he was fading and things weren't going great," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He's had a very solid year. He's had a phenomenal year for us."

The All-Star center fielder, who drove in a career-high five runs in Friday's victory over the Cardinals, is putting together one of the strongest all-around seasons by a Pirates outfielder in recent years.

McLouth already is one of only seven Pirates players to record 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season.

He has 25 home runs, 103 runs scored and drove in his 90th run of the season on Saturday night.

"I think I've been pretty consistent all year," he said. "There is no way I would have thought All-Star Game or anything like that. It's been a good season. I had high expectations, but I didn't envision this."

McLouth is on his way to becoming just the fourth Pirates player in the past 40 years to lead the team in hits, home runs and RBI in the same season. The others were Jason Bay in 2005, Bobby Bonilla in 1989 and Dave Parker in 1978.

McLouth has been among the National League's most consistent offensive players all season. He has gone more than two games without a hit only twice all season, and not since May 12. He has stolen 18 bases in a row.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound McLouth has developed a power stroke. He entered the season with 25 home runs in 284 major league games, and never hit more than 12 home runs in four-plus minor league seasons.

"It's not so much how much power you have, it's the bat speed and the way you center the ball, and, obviously, Nate does a very good job of that," Russell said. "He's not a big, strong guy that's going to muscle balls out of the park, but he has tremendous bat speed and he's very compact. When he centers the ball, it travels very well."

McLouth does more than hit home runs. He leads the Pirates in virtually every offensive category -- games, at-bats, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, base on balls, slugging percentage, on-base percentage. He even is first in hit by pitches with 12.

Of course, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were dealt, taking some of their team-best statistics with them. But McLouth, without as much protection in the lineup, keeps rolling along. As for the future, McLouth is arbitration eligible after the season, although the Pirates are reportedly working on a long-term deal with the 26-year-old.

"As he's gotten into the season, he's a tough out," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He's got a lot of attention. They are making pitches on him and he's still producing. He deserves a lot of credit."

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