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11/05/08 5:55 PM EST

McLouth snares first Gold Glove Award

Outfielder commits just one error in breakout '08 campaign

PITTSBURGH -- The outfielder who wasn't supposed to be a natural fit for center field and wasn't even assured of a starting spot until the week before the season began has proven the pundits wrong yet again.

In an announcement made on Wednesday afternoon, the Pirates' Nate McLouth was named to the Rawlings National League Gold Glove team. The honor proves to be a fitting way for McLouth to cap a season that included an All-Star Game appearance for the first-year starter.

"My goal going into the season was to play center field every day," McLouth said when reached by phone late Wednesday afternoon. "It didn't cross my mind to be honest with you that a Gold Glove would be a possibility. It wasn't until way, way later in the season, when people kind of brought it up to me, that I thought maybe I had a chance."

McLouth becomes the first Pirates player since Jay Bell in 1993 to pick up a Gold Glove Award and the sixth different outfielder in franchise history to garner the honor. In total, 15 different players in Pirates history have claimed the distinction.

That history, and the names of other former Pirates who had won a Gold Glove, wasn't lost on McLouth either as the news soaked in.

"It's been a while since there has been [a winner] in Pittsburgh," he said. "I am flattered to be mentioned alongside [12-time Gold Glove winner Roberto] Clemente and [eight-time winner Bill] Mazeroski and [five-time winner] Andy Van Slyke."

Much like McLouth's climb through the Minors and his emergence as a starter for the Pirates, there was some doubt that his defensive success had earned enough recognition across the league. Gold Glove Award winners are determined by voting done by managers and coaches in each league.

Certainly the statistics were there for McLouth. He committed just one error in 155 outfield appearances (150 starts) and was perfect defensively up until the final week of the season, when a throwing error in Milwaukee provided his only blemish of the year.

At the time, he was the only starting center fielder still with the chance of completing an errorless season.

"Obviously, looking at his numbers, he's very deserving," Pirates manager John Russell said at the end of the season. "You can't take away anything that Nate has done this year. He's done a great job in the outfield, and he's had a very productive offensive year. I think he should be a very deserving candidate."

However, the lack of team success and the fact that McLouth -- even in the midst of a breakout season -- was still missing the widespread notoriety common among Gold Glove winners, made even McLouth question whether he would get the consideration he deserved.

"It was definitely a surprise when I found out, because I know it is hard to break in as a first-time winner," McLouth said. "There's a lot of factors other than just the way you played. But I think the managers and coaches who voted on it got a chance to see me and saw what I brought."

Indeed they did, and in the end, it appears the numbers spoke for themselves. The former 25th-round Draft pick finished the season with the National League's best fielding percentage (.997) among all center fielders and the second-best among all NL outfielders.

McLouth's outstanding defensive play during the All-Star Game also opened some eyes. He played the final 11 innings of the 15-inning game at Yankee Stadium and threw out the potential winning run at the plate in the 11th to further extend the game. In doing so, McLouth became the only outfielder in All-Star Game history to throw out a potential winning run at the plate in extra innings.

So what does McLouth consider the biggest honor of the season for him: the All-Star Game invite or the Gold Glove Award?

"That's a tough one," McLouth said. "But if I had to choose, I think I'd have to say the Gold Glove is bigger. There are only eight Gold Gloves given out and a lot more All-Star spots than that."

McLouth was not the only first-time winner on this year's NL Gold Glove team. Also winning their first Rawlings honors are catcher Yadier Molina (St. Louis), first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (San Diego), second baseman Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati) and outfielder Shane Victorino (Philadelphia).

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Mets third baseman David Wright each claimed their second Gold Glove Award, while outfielder Carlos Beltran picked up the honor for the third time in his career.

And of course headlining the group of winners is pitcher Greg Maddux, who earned his Major League record 18th Gold Glove Award in a 19-year span. His record-setting total will end there, however, as agent Scott Boras revealed on Tuesday that Maddux intends to retire.

Interestingly enough, all three outfielder winners -- McLouth, Victorino and Beltran -- are center fielders.

As for McLouth, he already has his sights set on a repeat honor next year. However, he's also looking forward to a season defined by more team success.

"It's a great ending to the year," McLouth said of the Gold Glove Award. "Unfortunately, though, all it is a personal award. It's great to have, but certainly I would give that back in a heartbeat if I could help us get a team honor instead."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.