BOSTON — Manny Machado grew up in Miami, just like his idol. He wears No. 13, bats right-handed and hits towering home runs, just like his idol. A few years ago, he even moved from shortstop to third base, just as his idol once did.
After three days of threats and accusations, fiery tempers and frigid stares, warnings from umpires and even a lecture from the commissioner, the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles got back to merely playing baseball Thursday night at Fenway Park. And it was Machado, the slugger at the center of it all, who got the last word, launching a three-run homer over everything in left field to fuel an 8-3 victory and give the Orioles a split of the four-game series.
A-Rod must have been proud.
The Sox and O’s play each other 10 more times, including a four-game series in Baltimore from June 1-4, leaving plenty of opportunity for more shenanigans between the teams. But regardless of which direction the most heated active rivalry in the American League East goes from here, this much is clear: Machado will be the lightning rod, no pun intended, for all the nonsense, just as A-Rod was at the peak of the Red Sox-Yankees grudge matches a decade ago.
“What nonsense?” Machado told reporters. “That’s baseball. Whatever happens on the field stays there between the lines. We’ve just got to go out there and control what we can control and go about our business.”
It was a far calmer, cooler Machado than we saw for most of the week. Not that anyone needs a reminder of how this ugliness began, but Machado got it going April 21 in Baltimore with a spikes-high slide into Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia‘s surgically repaired left knee. Two days later, Boston reliever Matt Barnes tried to enact revenge by throwing a 90-mph pitch behind Machado’s head. Machado received what amounted to an on-field apology from Pedroia — “It’s not me, it’s them,” the Red Sox de facto captain shouted from across the field — and Barnes got a four-game suspension.
Fast forward to this week. Machado was booed before every at-bat at Fenway, but that was nothing compared to the greeting he got Tuesday night from Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who whipped a 98-mph first-pitch fastball behind his knees in the first inning.
That prompted an epic and totally not-suitable-for-work postgame rant from Machado, who dropped 12 F-bombs in about 90 seconds. He said he lost respect for the Red Sox and said he would use his bat to “crush somebody” who tried to hit him if it wouldn’t get him “suspended for a year.” Go ahead and watch it again online. Just cover your children’s ears.
Better yet, check out the home run Machado hit in the fourth inning Thursday night against Red Sox starter Kyle Kendrick to break a 3-3 tie. It was the third time Machado went deep in the series and was by far the longest, calculated at 456 feet, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker. It also had an exit velocity of 119.4 mph, which is downright A-Rodian.
“I just feel like I’m getting back in the groove,” Machado said. “It’s been a month now that I’ve struggled a little bit, but I’m finally, little by little, taking baby steps, feeling better at the plate, seeing the ball a little better, still making good contact with the ball.”
The Red Sox tried five times over the past two weeks to throw pitches that made contact with Machado. They failed each time. Instead, Machado has hit four homers in his last seven games against the Red Sox.
(Want to bet the Yankees took notice? Machado is eligible for free agency after next season, after all.)
“They’re the team to beat,” Machado said of the Red Sox. “We’ve got Toronto and the Yankees in the mix. This whole division, everyone’s our rival.”
And in Boston, Machado is in the crosshairs, replacing A-Rod as the player Red Sox fans most love to loath.