Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, for all his assurances about his mental state coming to New York and switching positions and his outlook on free agency, was missing one key factor thus far in 2018 — a star turn like he had Friday.
Machado homered in his first two at-bats off New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia, giving the Orioles 1-0 and 2-1 leads, respectively, at least for one night changing the course of a season that was growing to resemble the grind that was his 2017. He added two hits and also walked twice in the eventual 7-4, 14-inning win.
According to STATS, Inc., the last player to homer twice, have four hits, and walk twice in New York was Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle on Aug. 6, 1961.
"Oh man, it was awesome," Machado said of his skid-busting day. "It would have sucked if we would have gotten the loss. I was getting mad on that one pitch when Didi [Gregorius] hit it out [to tie the game in the eighth]. At the end of the day, as long as we got the W, I'm fine with that. Whether I got a couple of hits, or a couple of knocks or a couple of homers, I'm just enjoying myself being out there playing the game that we love, taking it all in."
"We've had a great view of it for a long time, and I'll tell you, he played really well at shortstop tonight," manager Buck Showalter said. "To make those accurate throws with a cold, slick baseball, it's not easy."
The 25-year-old free-agent-to-be got to stand in the on-deck circle and watch leadoff man Trey Mancini see seven pitches from Sabathia before Machado got in himself, spit on a fastball way outside, then stay back on a 78 mph slider and launch it into the second deck in left field.
By the time he came to the plate again, the Yankees had scratched a run back in a shaky first inning from Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. In the third, Sabathia got ahead 1-2, but left an 89 mph fastball high and over the plate. Machado hit it into the Orioles bullpen in left-center field.
The two home runs sparked what had been a dour start to the season for Machado. He entered the day batting .222 (6-for-27) with his only extra-base hit coming in the first inning on Opening Day. He hadn't driven in a run, and only scored once for an Orioles offense that was averaging 2.7 runs per game.
On Thursday he faced the New York media, declaring a mild indifference toward the trade talks that defined his offseason and the speculation that he could join the Yankees in free agency. That was before a game when he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, albeit in an Orioles win.
Facing Sabathia proved to be the perfect antidote for his struggles. Machado owned a career .316/.361/.579 batting line against Sabathia entering Friday, with three home runs to go with six doubles. His last multihomer game came on Sept. 5 — a Sabathia start — and three of his 15 career games with more than one home run came against New York.
The day brought the kind of hard contact that Machado had been lacking this season. The two home runs had a higher exit velocity — 110.5 mph on the first, 108 mph on the second — than any of his hits since that Opening Day double, according to Statcast.
Chris Davis hit his first home run of the season in the fourth inning before Sabathia was lifted ahead of the fifth with right hip soreness. So Machado faced reliever Tommy Kahnle in his third at-bat and worked a walk.
Machado's second walk came in the 10th inning, when the Orioles stranded two, and he singled in the 12th — an inning when the Orioles left the bases loaded. Machado added his second single of the night in the 14th inning, following a Mancini walk. Pedro Álvarez hit the go-ahead grand slam three batters later.
"Started off with Boom Boom having a nice at-bat, getting a walk, starting off the inning like that," Machado said. "Gave us an opportunity to go in there and Pedro, big at-bat, give us a W today. We're starting to swing the bat a little bit, playing as a team, doing the little things that count. Hopefully, we continue it."
With one game, Machado went from batting .222/.323/.259 to batting .313/.421/.531 — the magic of small sample sizes — and dug himself out of a hole quickly.