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After nearly taking fastball to head, Orioles' Manny Machado reflects on odd day, season

Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about starting pitcher Kevin Gausman's outing against the Red Sox as well as the pitch that almost hit Manny Machado. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

There are two kinds of comments made after a baseball is hurled in the direction of an opponent's head: the forceful ones by the pitcher's team denying intent, and the ambiguous ones by the batter's about how unwelcome such an action is.

When Manny Machado had a fastball by Matt Barnes hit off the bat behind his head in the eighth inning Sunday, leading to Barnes' ejection and the escalation of tensions between two teams that will battle for the American League East crown yet again, the only thing that didn't seem to follow script was how Machado handled it.

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There was no fight on the pitcher's mound, as there was last summer when the late Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura hit Machado. The only people to pour out of the dugout were the managers.

The Orioles stood on the verge of a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. Just not for very long.

But for as tense as the situation was, Machado's understanding of his place in the proceedings gave new meaning to the term "purpose pitch." Barnes' heater, intentional or not, led Machado to open up — about why he didn't retaliate, about what has been bothering him in his slow start to 2017, and what can change in a year's time.

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"You know what? It's just, you mature, I guess," Machado said. "I mean, I don't know. You just mature about the situation. I don't want to get suspended. I think everyone already knows that they think I'm the villain. It's always me. I'm always — Manny always does something wrong. It's never me. I just go out there and play the game that I love and leave it on the field, and I play with heart. Whatever happens in between the lines stays in between the lines, and I'm not going to really put more into it."

Why does Machado, who was heavily criticized for the eighth-inning slide at second base Friday that set off this testy series and injured Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia's knee, feel that way?

"I don't know, that's just how it is," he said.

Machado didn't deliver these postgame comments from a pedestal, and won't be put on one going forward. His history, no matter how far he comes, will prevent that. No one was elevated by any of this, except possibly Pedroia, who called it a "definitely mishandled situation."

The situation played out with the outcome already nearly secure. The Orioles were losing 6-0 in the eighth inning, and center fielder Adam Jones had just singled, and the first pitch that came Machado's way was a 90-mph fastball that hit the barrel of his bat, behind his head.

It initially was ruled a hit-by-pitch, and Machado, after long stares at the Boston dugout and Barnes, took first base before home plate umpire Andy Fletcher ejected the pitcher. After the umpires coonvened and tempers cooled, Machado returned to the batter's box to continue his at-bat, but the ejection stood.

While they waited for the game to resume, Machado and Pedroia had a long conversation captured on camera in which Pedroia denied any involvement.

On Saturday, manager Buck Showalter prefaced his comments about the slide that sparked the controversy by saying he viewed the whole incident through Orioles glasses. On Sunday, the teams' reactions reflected those leanings.

Said Barnes: "I would never ever intentionally throw at somebody's head. That's kind of a line you don't cross. Um, I'm sorry that it kind of ended up that high, and fortunately, it didn't hit him, but I think he's got every right to be mad that that one got loose."

Said Red Sox manager John Farrell: "He's trying to go up and in. Make no mistake, the ball got away from him. My comments are what they are. It's a dangerous pitch when you get up and in there. Thankfully, he didn't get it."

Said Machado: "You never want to get hit in the head, intentionally or not. It don't matter. You don't want to get hit in the head. You know, it is what it is. … We did the right thing out there and we're going to continue to do what we've got to do on this side and continue to do what we've got to do on this side and continue to play baseball and continue to do things the right way that we always have been doing. Move on to the next series."

And lastly, Showalter: "We're not getting involved in that stuff. We've done it since I've been here. We'll continue to do it. We all have our personal feelings about it. I really respect the courage our players had today. ... The courage it takes not to retaliate a lot of times in life is a lot more challenging than doing what ended up happening today."

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Showalter also praised Machado for getting back into the box, staying back on a breaking ball and smacking it over the head of center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for an RBI double.

It took the circumstances — that purpose pitch — for the meaning of that hit to reveal itself to Machado.

"Just trying to do some damage, like I always do — just another normal at-bat," he said. "I'm trying to go up there and try and make good contact with it. Finally, I hit a ball hard, squared, that nobody caught."

It's been a season full of the opposite for Machado, who has only 13 hits, and six for extra bases, to show for a bushel full of well-hit balls that find gloves. His .210 average is the lowest among the team's regular starters.

"I'm just going to keep doing me, keep playing baseball," he said. "Just try to keep going. I'm struggling right now. I'm not hitting the ball. So I've got to start hitting the ball and hopefully carry this team to the next level that we need to go to. That's the only thing I can control."

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