The story of the National League Championship Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers has been Manny Machado.
Not only have we been reminded during the telecasts that the Brewers were also a serious suitor for Machado ahead of the July non-waiver trade deadline, but there have been countless reminders that Machado remains a polarizing figure around baseball.
After Machado’s six RBIs in the Dodgers’ four-game win over the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series, all seemed set for a joyous first trip to an LCS. Machado had knee surgery in August 2014, putting him out for the Orioles’ postseason.
Statistically, Machado’s line is a good one. In the first four games of the series, he has a .353 average (6-for-17) with a homer and three RBIs. Machado scored the winning run in the Dodgers’ 2-1 13-inning win in Game 4.
For those of you who might have actually gone to sleep before the end of the game, which came around 2:25 a.m., the best and worst of Machado was on display well after midnight.
There was the hustle that allowed him to score the key run from second on Cody Bellinger’s single.
But first was the clumsy attempt to call time when the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes was already in his windup. Machado was punched out by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, ending the fifth inning, inconveniently forgetting that time has to be granted, not merely requested.
Most glaring was Machado’s clipping the left foot of Milwaukee first baseman Jesus Aguilar as he ran through first base on a grounder in the 10th inning.
Machado’s play appeared to be intentional, and the Brewers’ Christian Yelich, the NL’s likely Most Valuable Player, denounced him after the game. “It was a dirty play by a dirty player,” Yelich told reporters.
Machado’s explanation? “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 Game 3, Machado was criticized for a pair of hard slides at Milwaukee shortstop Orlando Arcia in attempts to break up double plays.
In Game 2, Machado didn’t run out a grounder to Arcia, again drawing unwanted attention to himself.
Machado’s rationale for not running out ground balls, which he often was guilty of during his seven seasons with the Orioles, was on display in an interview with FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, who wrote about it for The Athletic.
“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.
“Should I have run on that pitch? Yeah … but I didn’t and I gotta pay the consequences for it. It does look bad. It looks terrible. I look back at the video and I’m like, ‘Woah, what was I doing?’ You know, just the emotions of the game … I’m the type of player that has stayed in the zone, I’m playing and I’m just in the zone.”
Machado was generally treated gently by former Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who never berated him publicly for failure to run out ground balls. When Machado requested to play shortstop in this, his walk year with the Orioles, Showalter willingly acceded to the request, feeling Machado would perform brilliantly offensively.
During the current series, which is tied at two games apiece, Machado has shown the national audience what Orioles fans saw during his seven seasons in Baltimore: Great play mixed in with some highly questionable decisions.
In June 2014, Machado ran into Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson, who was attempting to tag him. causing both benches to clear. Two days later, Athletics reliever Fernando Abad threw at Machado’s knees, nearly hitting him, and on the next pitch, he retaliated by throwing his bat at third base, where Alberto Callaspo had just replaced Donaldson.
That earned Machado a five-game suspension.
Two years later, Machado charged the mound when Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura, a pitcher with a history of head-hunting, threw at him, costing him a four-game suspension.
In April 2017, Machado slid hard at Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, injuring Pedroia’s left knee. That time, Machado apologized, but two days later, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes threw a pitch over his head.
When the Orioles visited Fenway Park early the next month, Chris Sale threw a pitch behind Machado’s surgically repaired knees. After the game, Machado unleashed a torrent of profanities toward the Red Sox, saying he had lost “mad respect” for the organization.
A night earlier, Adam Jones had been the subject of racist taunts at Fenway.
In his time with the Orioles, Machado was always an emotional player, but never ducked the media after a controversial play. This season as the Orioles played in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, places where Machado could conceivably land next season, he answered question after question about his status.
No matter the final result of the Dodgers’ postseason, Machado will still be highly coveted on the free-agent marketplace.
Last week, the Yankees announced that their shortstop, Didi Gregorius, would undergo Tommy John surgery, and speculation grew that Machado was headed for New York.
He could stay with the Dodgers, though shortstop Corey Seager, who had Tommy John surgery earlier this season is expected back next year. A Dodgers source told the New York Post that L.A. isn’t interested in retaining Machado. “He doesn’t want to be a leader,” the source said.
Machado was openly pursued during spring training by Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, causing MLB officials to warn Judge about tampering.
Other possible Machado destinations could include the Phillies, Cubs, Angels and St. Louis Cardinals.
That speculation is for the offseason. Hopefully, Machado will display his marvelous on-field talents and keep the anger on hold—for at least the rest of the postseason.