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Thoughts on Manny Machado and Sunday's bench-clearing incident

Even to the most die-hard Orioles fan -- even the ones most blinded by the darkest orange-and-black colored shades -- Manny Machado's bat fling on Sunday afternoon had to seem a little weird.

Machado said after the Orioles' 11-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics that his bat left his grasp and twirled down the third-base line in play unintentionally.

But when you look at the play, Machado swung the bat nowhere close to the pitch low and inside. His swing also was extremely late.

Make of it what you may.

Now, keep this in mind: Before this weekend, Manny Machado had never had the reputation of being a hothead. He only had been ejected from one game in his career before Sunday and that was for arguing ball and strikes. He’s always been professional on the field and in the clubhouse.

That’s why this weekend took many by surprise.

On Friday, Machado took exception with the force of Josh Donaldson’s tag on him, which made him lose his balance and stumble to the ground. He jumped to his feet and got into Donaldson’s face before third base coach Bobby Dickerson pulled Machado back.

“I know there was the tag with Donaldson,” Athletics designated hitter John Jaso said. “He said it was hard, but you look at it on video, and it's just a normal tag, no big deal. So you start to think about, 'Who does this guy think he is?' and that causes some drama to start.”

When Oakland left-hander Fernando Abad threw his first pitch inside to Machado on Sunday, it was at his knees. The second was also inside and at his knees.

Asked if Machado’s reaction was triggered by the possibility of re-injuring his left knee, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that was possible. When Donaldson tagged Machado on Friday, Machado fell backward awkwardly – much more awkwardly than the misstep that ended his season last September when he stepped on first base.

Combine that with the fact that both inside pitches from Abad – who has hit just one batter in 30 appearances this season – were near Machado’s left knee, and maybe it’s easier to see why Machado became unhinged so quickly. 

“I think that probably had something to do with two days ago,” Showalter said. “Off-balance, after the tag put him in harm’s way with the knee. I don’t know if they took any exception to Manny accidentally tipping their catcher’s [head] ... I don’t know. You’ve got to ask them. I just know that it’s real easy to get caught in the emotion of something [rather than] make a decision that takes a lot more guts, sometimes to say no instead of being there responsible for something that someone loses their career over. I’ve tried with the years, think a little bit before you shoot from the hip.”

Still, there's no excuse if the bat flip was intentional.   

The Athletics made it clear that they didn’t like that two of Machado’s backswings hit catcher Derek Norris in the helmet and Machado didn’t ask if Norris was OK. Norris said he thought he saw Machado smile after one time he was hit.

“Not much cordialness coming from his side today,” Norris said.

“When people aren't aware or don't even care about that etiquette, a lesson needs to be taught there,” Jaso said. “That little bit of camaraderie, that sportsmanship, needs to be there.”

After Machado’s bat twirled past third base, Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt got in Machado’s face, which was what really sparked both benches to clear. Both teams had to have sensed tension because coaches sped onto the field. Showalter sprinted out of the dugout and started separating players. First base coach Wayne Kirby jumped in front of Jaso, who made a direct sprint at Machado.

What did Vogt say to Machado?

"I have no idea,” Machado said. “He came up to me and said something. We said a couple words back and forth. It was nothing too crazy."

Said Vogt: “I just asked him what that was. I hadn't seen anything like that before. … He said something about he needed more pine tar. ... All I'll say about it is it's something I've never seen on a baseball field before. It's over, we'll move on, but that's something that should never happen on a baseball field.”

Whether you believe Machado lost his bat intentionally or not, I’d be surprised if Machado doesn’t receive some sort of suspension from the commissioner’s office. Crew chief Larry Vanover said he deemed it intentional, as he did Abad's pitch at Machado. It leads you to believe that both will be punished.

“Cut and dry, the whole thing right there,” Vanover said.

What’s not so cut and dry is what happens from here. Will cooler heads prevail when the Orioles travel to Oakland in July for their first series after the All-Star break? Will Machado put this in the past quickly and get back to making headlines with his play?

"Heat of the moment,” Machado said. “Obviously, it's going to get heated. But you can't do nothing about it. The only thing you can control is come back out there and play baseball."

eencina@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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