Former Oriole Manny Machado has always played baseball to the beat of his own drum, so it’s not like anybody should be surprised that he has suddenly become the bad boy of the baseball postseason.
Tuesday night, he caused the benches to empty in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series when he seemed to intentionally clip the ankle of Milwaukee Brewers star Jesus Aguilar while crossing first base in the 10th inning of the Dodgers’ 13-inning victory at Dodger Stadium. He was fined by Major League Baseball for the incident but avoided a suspension, starting at shortstop in Game 5 on Wednesday.
In other words, it was quite a full day of controversy for a superstar player who was involved in more than his share of it during his seven-year career with the Orioles.
Machado had already raised eyebrows when he defended his failure to run hard on a ground ball in Game 2. He told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic in an interview that was excerpted on Tuesday’s pregame show that there’s no excuse for him not running out every ground ball, but he’s “not the kind of player who’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle.’ ”
That’s classic Manny. He was able to semi-apologize and wax defiant at the same time.
“I've never given excuses for not running,’’ he said. “I'm not hurt, there's no excuse but I've been the same player. … I've been doing this for eight years, I'm in The Show for eight years, I've done the same thing for eight years, I've been the same player.”
No argument there. Machado has been playing at the speed of Manny since he broke in with the Orioles in 2012, and for the most part, it hasn’t been a big problem. The guy is a superstar who has delivered countless highlight plays that other players can only dream of possessing the talent to perform, and there are 30 major league teams that would gladly accept that tradeoff.
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer made some waves by blasting him in a tweet during Game 2 — and who can argue with the notion that every player should run hard on every ground ball — but lots of players jog to first base when they feel a routine play is going to be made well ahead of them.
If that weren’t true, why did Orioles manager Buck Showalter always make such a big deal of the fact that Adam Jones always ran hard to first base regardless of the situation?
The pregame panel on Fox Sports 1, which included Alex Rodríguez, David Ortiz and Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, came to Machado’s defense by pointing out the number of games he has played over the past four years (all but 11 out of 648 regular-season games) and correctly observing that Machado suffered a severe knee injury landing awkwardly on the edge of the first base bag in 2013.
The controversial play on Tuesday night harked back to that play as well as his jog through the bag in Game 2. Machado was running hard on this ground ball to shortstop and he made sure his lead foot landed right in the middle of the bag. Aguilar had too much of his right foot covering the base, but it looked like Machado could have avoided him.
The Brewers cried foul and presumptive National League MVP Christian Yelich called it “a dirty play by a dirty player.”
This time, a defiant Manny brushed off the criticism when asked about if after the game.
"You saw the replay, probably," Machado said. "I was trying to get over him and hit his foot. If that's dirty, that's dirty, I don't know, call it what you want."
After singling to left field in the 13th inning, Machado greeted Aguilar with a brief hug at first base, and the two had a conversation between pitches.
“We are family. ... We go back to the minor leagues,” Machado said in another postgame interview. “What happens on the field stays on the field.”
Of course, if Machado were having a terrible postseason, it would be easier to make all of the criticism stick, but he leads all postseason hitters with nine RBIs and is tied with three other players for the home run lead (three). In the 13th inning Tuesday night, he singled with one out, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored the winning run on Cody Bellinger’s walk-off single, just beating the tag at home plate.
The Dodgers obviously are satisfied with his effort. The big question now is how much this latest kerfuffle will impact his value when he enters the free agent market in November.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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