Just over six weeks ago, Manny Machado’s batting average was sitting at .215. It hadn’t been above .240 since the fourth game of the year, and some wondered if Machado was destined to have one of those off years.
Since then, his average has steadily climbed, the power followed and over the past 15 games, his surge has reached a new level.
The fact that Machado hit three homers and drove in seven runs in the Orioles’ 9-7 comeback win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night was one thing, but that he walked off the victory with his third grand slam in a span of 11 games was another.
Machado watched the 0-1 pitch from Angels reliever Keynan Middleton land in the glove of closer Zach Britton, who had enough time to walk from the Orioles bullpen to the grassy area in front of the center-field batter’s eye to catch the ball.
“I got it,” Machado said. “I was looking for a pitch and I got it. I made a good swing on it. Off the bat, I knew it was going to go far. It’s always good to get yourself in the situation that you could try to put the team above you, and try to go for it.”
As Machado rounded first base, he yelled “Let’s go” into the Orioles dugout as his teammates began flooding out to home plate, where Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones doused Machado with water before he touched home plate.
“It’s about giving guys some space to be themselves,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “And also to — some guys are looking at the order going, ‘I hope this game doesn’t come to me,’ but very seldom at the big league level.”
With 26 homers, Machado has now tied Schoop for the team lead, his 81 RBIs trail only Schoop and his .494 slugging percentage is third behind Schoop and Trey Mancini.
As much as Machado spent the opening months of the season grinding, as much as he might’ve been trying to hit the ball out of the yard too often, now there might not be a player anyone would rather have at the plate with the bases loaded. As the Orioles waited for the Machado they knew would return, a new one has emerged.
Over his past 14 games, Machado is hitting .371 with eight homers and 26 RBIs. Over that stretch, Machado is a perfect 4-for-4 with the bases loaded, hitting three grand slams, a two-run single and a sacrifice fly over that stretch. Before that, Machado was still hitting a respectable .429 with the bases loaded, but all three of those hits were singles.
“I don’t know,” Machado said. “Everybody likes to hit with people on base. Those are RBIs you’ve got [to get], especially with less than two outs. You try to get one at least. That’s my mentality going up there, which is at least get one guy in with less than two outs with a guy like that. Just put the ball up in the air. I’ve been fortunate to have a little more power and get a little stronger as the years go on and those fly balls keep going a little bit.”
No player has hit more grand slams since the beginning of the 2016 season than Machado, hitting six of his seven career slams over that span. No other player has more than four (the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Chris Taylor) over the past two seasons.
Over that stretch, Machado has hit safely in half of his at-bats with the bases loaded, going 11-for-22 with 36 RBIs.
Machado opened the road trip at the Angels with a game-winning grand slam on Aug. 7, then hit another in Monday’s win at the Seattle Mariners.
On Friday, the Orioles set the stage for Machado by pecking away at the Angels bullpen. Rule 5 draft pick Anthony Santander had his first major league hit off Yusmeiro Petit to open the inning. Two batters later, pinch hitter Seth Smith drew a seven-pitch walk and shortstop Tim Beckham then hit an opposite-field single off Middleton to load the bases.
“If we want to win and take it to the next level, this is what we have to do,” Machado said. “Keep fighting and pass the baton and next guy [can] do damage. The last inning, man on first and second, Beckham can homer easily. He got on base and passed the baton. That’s what we have to do if we’re going to be successful and make it somewhere. Our pitching staff is going to have to do well and pass the baton to the next guy, the next guy. We get into a good situation where we go forward.”