Maybe the Orioles’ frustration had been festering since the moment their playoff dreams died in Kansas City two years ago, when they were forced to watch from the visiting dugout as the Royals celebrated a ticket to the World Series.
All-Star shortstop Manny Machado boiled over in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Royals at Camden Yards, charging at Kansas City pitcher Yordano Ventura like a bull seeing red and not royal blue, hellbent on punishing the wiry right-hander. Machado launched a right hook to the pitcher’s head – a tussle that prompted a dugout-clearing brawl in the Orioles’ otherwise impressive 9-1 win.
Though the incident was ugly -- when the scene settled, both Machado and Ventura were ejected -- inside the Orioles clubhouse, Machado received full backing from his manager and teammates.
“When you go through the disappointment and heartache we had in ’14 in Kansas City, it kinda, you have to sit there and take it,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I think Manny and the team decided not to take it tonight.”
Machado had just taken a 99-mph fastball between the numbers on the back of his jersey. He had been brushed from the plate twice in his previous at-bat, seen jawing with Ventura after he admired a hard-hit fly ball to left was brought back in the ballpark by a stiff wind.
His next at-bat ended with Machado and Ventura rolling in the dirt on the edge of the pitcher's mound after exchanging swings, both teams flooding onto the field to pull the two players off each other.
“I don't regret anything,” Machado said. “It's part of the game. Reactions fly. When somebody's throwing 99 [mph] at you, it's going to hurt. You can ruin someone's career. You don't think in that situation. You just react to it. It happened. Whatever happened, happened. You just have to move forward.”
Showalter foreshadowed the incident. He knew of Ventura’s growing resume of stirring up trouble and, in fact, warned Machado between at-bats.
“I’m not happy about it at all,” Showalter said. “I thought he was trying to hit him the at-bat before. That’s why I talked to him before he took his last at-bat. I think he signaled breaking ball and shook to fastball. No, I don’t like when any of my guys are put in harm’s way, especially a guy throwing that hard and having some problems with his command tonight.
"But [its] not the first time. Obviously, it must be something that’s OK because he continues to do it. It must be condoned. I don’t know.”
Asked if he was disappointed in Machado’s reaction, Showalter gave an emphatic ”No.” Then when asked whether he worried the tension could carry over into Wednesday’s series finale, he gave an even more definitive response.
“Bring it on,” Showalter said. “Whatever. Bring it on. We’ll handle it. You try not to let one person’s actions speak for a lot of people, but it’s been going on a while with him.”
Royals manager Ned Yost wasn’t as quick to defend Ventura, who has found himself in similar situations in the past.
“You know, Ventura, in Manny's first at-bat, was pitching him in,” Yost said. “Obviously, he didn't like it; flew out and was screaming at Ventura. I'm thinking 'OK, he's going to pitch him inside again.' I mean, looked to me like he got away [from that]. I don't know, that's something you're going to have to ask him but I don't know who's at fault there."
Ventura said through Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol that his game plan was to pitch inside.
“Coming into today my plan was fastballs inside and breaking balls in the dirt," Ventura said. "One got away and that was it.”
Ventura hit Machado with a pitch in a game last September, and the two exchanged words during Machado's second-inning. Tuesday, Machado was buzzed twice by inside pitches from Ventura, then admired a fly ball into left field that came up short of the wall.
Machado took the first pitch of his next at-bat to his back, then immediately ran to the mound, where Ventura dropped his hat and glove before they swung at each other. Machado appeared to land a punch to Ventura’s head with a closed right fist and took him to the ground.
Though a rivalry has developed between the teams since their meeting in the ALCS two years ago, Machado said he wasn’t aware of any bad blood between the clubs.
“I don't know,” Machado said. “I have no idea if there was. I know they’re the defending world champions and we are trying to take it away from them. They are all good over there, they have a great team.
"Tempers flare at times. That’s what good teams do, they react to things and go out there and leave it all on the field. As long as we leave it all on the field, that’s all that matters.”
Machado’s punch could be costly to the Orioles. Earlier this season, Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor was suspended eight games for landing a punch on Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista after Bautista slid into Odor at second base.
“There’s probably going to be a suspension coming,” Showalter said. “Who knows what it is. You've got to deal with the consequences once you cross that line. You've got to deal with consequences that are going to come your way. It’s going to suck that someone’s going to be down but it’s all part of it. Part of the grind.”
This isn’t the first time Machado has been involved in an altercation. In a home game against the Oakland Athletics in June of 2014, Machado tossed his bat down the third-base line, prompting a five-game suspension that was upheld following an appeal with the league office.
In that game, Machado had a face-to-face confrontation with third baseman Josh Donaldson earlier when he took exception to Donaldson’s tag. Later in the game, Machado stared down Oakland reliever Fernando Abad after shuffling away from an inside pitch near his surgically repaired right knee. Later in that at-bat, he flung his bat.
Ventura, 25, also has a history in such altercations.
Early in 2015, one of the biggest storylines in the league was Ventura’s perceived habit of inciting scuffles on the field. On April 12 of last season, Ventura yelled at Angels outfielder Mike Trout as he scored after hitting a single off him, and the benches cleared.
In his next start on April 17, Ventura was fined for hitting Brett Lawrie, then of the Oakland Athletics, with a pitch in the fourth inning. In his next start, against the Chicago White Sox, Ventura yelled at outfielder Adam Eaton as he was running out a chopper to the mound. The benches cleared, and five players, including Ventura, were ejected in a brawl.
“I knew it was going to happen,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “You can foresee things like that. Like I said, the guy, he’s got electric stuff. The talent is all there, but between the ears, there’s a circuit board that’s off balance. I don’t get it. I don’t get it. He wants to be Pedro Martinez? Cool. Be Pedro Martinez. Have a damn sub-two [ERA] like Pedro Martinez. Don’t go out there trying to hurt somebody. That’s what Pedro didn’t do. So, hopefully the league catches onto it. I got Manny’s fine, and the rest is history.”
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who was the Orioles' starting pitcher on Tuesday, said it is obvious Ventura needs to be reined in.
"There’s no kidding when you’re throwing 99 mph, and hitting people," Jimenez said. "I think they have to find a way to help him out. They have to find somebody to help him out because if they want him to stay a long time in the big leagues. He has such an amazing talent. … You see that every day. There’s a lot of people that are not in baseball because of the way they act. He needs some help.”