But the dazzling plays he'd already made in his short time as a big leaguer paled in comparison to the savvy, game-saving one he turned in Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.
With the go-ahead run on second base and two outs in the top of the ninth, Machado charged Evan Longoria's slow roller to third. But instead of throwing to first — it would have been a tough play to make — he faked the throw, spun around and caught pinch runner Rich Thompson off third base for the final out of the inning.
Moments later, Machado led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Two batters later, he came around on Nate McLouth's walk-off single off the right-field fence, giving the Orioles a 3-2 victory before 26,076 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (80-62), who improved to 26-7 in one-run games, remained in a tie for first place with the Yankees in the American League East — New York beat the Boston Red Sox, 5-4 — and sent the Rays (77-65) to three games back in the division and AL wild-card standings.
“It's neat, because almost daily you can kind of sense and feel the excitement growing a little bit,” said McLouth, who was mobbed near second base after his game-winning hit and hoisted into the air by teammate Chris Davis. “The crowds are almost like college football crowds, to be honest with you.”
Machado, who along with McLouth received a celebratory shaving cream pie to the face, made several key defensive plays at third — not bad for a 20-year-old who played just two games there in Double-A level before he was called up to the majors to be the team's everyday player at the position.
But the one that swung the momentum of the game was his ninth-inning gem. Machado, who had been groomed as a shortstop in the minors before he joined the Orioles Aug. 9, said he never practiced the fake-throw play before.
“It just comes out,” Machado said. “That's one thing about having good instincts for the game. Things come out that you don't ever plan or you don't even practice.”
Machado was focused on not throwing the ball away. He thought back to Sunday, when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter hit an almost identical ball that Machado scooped with his bare hand and threw errantly toward first.
This time, with the game on the line, he thought better of it, faking the throw to first, then turning around, where shortstop J.J. Hardy was covering third and Thompson was making a wild turn around the base.
“It was good presence,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We talk about his clock, knowing he didn't have a play there. That was the only chance to get an out. You have a real fast runner there and he's trying to take advantage of it. He's probably going to keep going if he throws the ball. Manny had a really good night at third. That goes without saying."
Said Hardy: “For Manny to do what he did, it just shows you how aware he is at 20 years old.”
Rookie right-hander Miguel Gonzalez held the Rays to two runs on six hits over six innings. In recent weeks, the Orioles have taken extra measures to give the 28-year-old Gonzalez — who has become a key component to their push toward the postseason — extra rest.
On Wednesday, Gonzalez pitched on six days rest, but he looked more rusty than rested. Still, he gave the Orioles perhaps his grittiest performance as a major leaguer.
Rays center fielder B.J. Upton sent Gonzalez's second pitch of the night deep into the left-field stands for his 22nd homer of the season and his sixth in the last eight games.
Ben Francisco's two-out double in the third tied the game at two. But Gonzalez retired the next eight Rays hitters before Francisco's one-out single in the sixth.
Gonzalez then walked Carlos Pena and was charged with a balk, putting two runners in scoring position. But he struck out Ryan Roberts on a nasty called third strike curveball and, after intentionally walking Matt Joyce to load the bases, Gonzalez got Jose Molina to ground out to first to end the inning.
“Command-wise he wasn't quite there,” Showalter said. “But it's a real testament to his moxie there. Everything that happened tonight, he was as key to it as anything."
The Orioles also dodged a scare in the seventh. Darren O'Day issued a leadoff walk to Upton, who quickly stole second. O'Day recovered, inducing pop ups from Jeff Keppinger and Ben Zobrist, then intentionally walking Evan Longoria before striking out Francisco to end the inning.
“There's so many different contributors and there's been so many different people kind of step up,” McLouth said. “There were plenty of guys who did big things tonight. ... There were plenty of big performances tonight to go around.”