Just a Bit Outside: Manny Machado fought the (unwritten) law, and Machado won

by Sam Stockton | 5/8/17 2:05am

Last week, I told you about the burgeoning feud between Manny Machado and the Boston Red Sox. Well this week, a four-game set at Fenway Park between the Sox and Machado’s Baltimore Orioles did little to ease the tension between the two ball clubs.

First, a quick refresher on why the series had the potential to explode before it even began. Machado, attempting to avoid a force out at second base on April 21, slid awkwardly into Dustin Pedroia, forcing the Sox second baseman to miss a few games as a result of the dust up. Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes threw a fastball just behind Machado’s head. The Sox still felt wronged by Machado, a fugitive of baseball’s unwritten law for his involvement in Pedroia’s injury. The Birds were displeased with Barnes for not only throwing at their superstar third baseman but also for throwing at his head.

Fast forward to May 1 and the beginning of the four-game series. In a word, Machado was magnificent. He hit a towering home run over the Green Monster, notched two RBIs and made a handful of web gems at third base. Machado looked a bit like the Florida-born, jersey-number-13-wearing third baseman who was once the Sox’s greatest enemy and American League East nemesis. He showed the Red Sox all of the tools that have made him one of the biggest stars in baseball: power, speed, a rocket arm and an exceptional glove. Machado rendered Boston powerless, and the Birds took the series opener 5-2. When asked about the feud, Machado said, “It’s been over. We’re just out here to go and try and play baseball.”

In Game 2, the Red Sox turned to its ace, Chris Sale, to find an answer to Machado. When Machado came to the plate in the first inning, boos rained down on him from the Fenway faithful just as they did in every at-bat he had in the series. Sale’s first pitch went directly behind the O’s powerful third baseman, prompting the only cheer of the series for any play involving Machado. While Sale managed to strike him out in the first, Machado launched a second home run over the Green Monster to cut the Sox lead to one in the top of the seventh. The Orioles could not complete the comeback, but once again number 13 left no doubt as to who the best player on the field was that warm May evening.

After the game, Machado verbalized an indignant, 90-second rant, colored with uses of a particular four-letter word beginning with “f.” He expressed frustration that the Red Sox took so long to go back to business as usual, saying that he’d lost respect for the Red Sox as an organization.

In the series’ third game, the Red Sox finally quieted Machado’s bat, winning 4-2 and holding Machado without a hit. It was the only game of the series in which Machado did not homer.

In the fourth inning of the series’ fourth and final game, Machado came to the plate with two on, two out, and the game tied at three. Kyle Kendrick delivered a 92-mph offering that Machado took deep. This home run cleared not only the Green Monster but the stadium entirely, landing on Lansdowne Street. Machado coasted around the bases, taking nearly 30 seconds to complete his round trip as the Sox and its fans could only watch. The ball flew 456 feet before coming to rest and left Machado’s bat at a sizzling 113.4 mph.

Almost immediately, certain sects of Red Sox Nation and baseball purists took issue with Machado’s prolonged lap of the bases. The third baseman was unprofessional and showboating, once again violating baseball’s unwritten rules.

I have news for anyone who didn’t like Machado’s lengthy lap of the bases. If you don’t want Machado to “showboat” after home runs, don’t let him hit them in the first place. Machado, through all of the off-the-field drama and tension, did nothing but his job. The Orioles pay Machado to hit home runs and play excellent defense. That is exactly what he did all series. The Red Sox tried repeatedly to prevent him from doing that by getting into his head and throwing at him. Machado blocked out that mess and played baseball.

Five times over the last two weeks, the Red Sox tried to settle some ethereal score with the Orioles star. They failed every time. Four times in his last seven games against the Red Sox, Machado homered.

It was only a four-game series in May, but the Orioles-Red Sox matchup was playoff-like in its atmosphere. Boston tried to make the series about settling scores. Machado and the Orioles played baseball. While the teams split the four games, it was the Orioles, led by Machado who sent a decisive message: Do what you want, we’re just going to play ball and play it well. These Orioles may not garner the national attention that Boston and the New York Yankees do, but they are more ready to win playoff series right now than either of those two teams.

Before wrapping the latest chapter in the Sox versus Machado saga, it is worth mentioning that Machado, like Bryce Harper, is a free agent after next season. Also like Harper, he has repeatedly been linked to none other than the Yankees in free agency. Machado versus the Sox certainly isn’t dead yet, but adding Machado to the Yankees may finally be what brings the Sox-Yankees pairing to national relevance for the first time since the mid-2000s. This is of course only conjecture, and there is plenty to love about Machado, as an Oriole, taking on the best Boston can offer and hammering it over the Green Monster. After all of the highlight reel plays he’s produced and nonsense he’s been subjected to in Boston, let him have his time around the bases.