By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
If you were told prior to a Red Sox/Orioles game that a player on the Orioles would create a big controversy that evening, you would make a serious wager that Manny Machado would be the player involved, right? Anybody with half a brain and a basic knowledge of the Orioles roster would certainly say YES. Machado had previously intentionally struck A’s catcher Stephen Vogt with his bat during his backswing multiple times, and even attempted launching his bat at the relief pitcher. Not to mention numerous scuffles on the field. A wager on MACHADO would have paid off last Friday, when for reasons only Machado knows, took a late hard slide into Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with his spikes raised high. Known to be highly injury prone, Red Sox Nation gasped as their aging defacto Captain clutched his leg for several moments on the ground. It was the same knee he had arthroscopic surgery to repair last fall.
Pedroia was gingerly escorted off the field by Red Sox Training staff. It was a bitter pill to swallow. The Orioles who were shaping up to be our chief rival for 2017 and winning the game, with Manny Machado standing on second base completely unscathed by what had just transpired. The first thought on all of our minds was REVENGE. Why wouldn’t it be? We are the most RABID fan base in all of MLB. Surely the Red Sox would not let their division rival walk all over them and not show any respect. Afterall, we’re ONE Boston, and Boston Strong.
Steven Wright was on the mound in game two. Speculation was rampant pre-game among fans and media before the game as to the status of Pedroia’s health, and whether Machado would get beaned on Saturday should the opportunity present itself. Despite the high tensions, it was generally dismissed for game two since the Sox were starting a knuckle baller. Wright had previously struggled with his control, and the lineup was in an offensive slump. The focus for the entire game was trying to win, but unfortunately was lost. The Red Sox were 0-2 for the series with one last shot to salvage a win, and possibly revenge on Machado.
Game three started off fast as Mookie Betts drove three runs in during the first inning, followed immediately with a solo shot by Hanley Ramirez. Eduardo Rodriguez was DEALING for six solid innings in what was clearly his best performance of 2017. With the game seemingly in hand for the Red Sox, most of the turned to Manny Machado.
The hope all weekend long was that Joe Kelly would be on the mound when Machado made a late inning plate appearance. Kelly has been clocked at 101mph this season, which would clearly send a message to Machado should Kelly send a ball into his lower back. Matt Barnes came out for the seventh inning, and then again for the 8th. Machado came to the plate in what was certainly going to not only be his final at-bat for the game, but the final time for the series. On the very first pitch, Barnes wasted no time at all in unleashing a fast ball that sailed up past Machado’s head, but struck the bat and ricocheted off his back. There was a huge uproar amongst the Camden Yards crowd, as well as a huge explosion of Red Sox fans on the twittersphere feeling instant vindication for what Machado did to Pedroia on Friday night.
While pandemonium was taking place on the field. Farrell was pleading his case to the umpires that the pitch was actually a foul ball since it caught Machado’s bat. As the umpires agreed to review the play, Pedroia and Machado could be seen trying to reconcile the situation. Pedroia was seen clearly telling Machado, “That’s not me, that’s them.” “Them” was the bullpen which his where Pedroia’s finger was pointing very authoritatively. It was a stunning scene to witness. Five years earlier, which coincidentally was the first year of Jason Varitek’s retirement, Pedroia steadfastly proclaimed in an interview with WEEI, ““I’m proud to a point where, you know, to be a team leader, you need to have your teammates’ backs under any circumstances.” Yet there he was on Sunday afternoon completely backing Manny Machado, instead of Matt Barnes. Barnes himself was trying to be a good teammate by evening the score with Machado, and to ensure he would show Red Sox infielders more respect on the basepaths.
For the ENTIRE weekend Red Sox fans were 100% in agreement that Manny Machado must pay for his actions. However, when Dustin Pedroia doubled down in his post game interview by refusing to protect his teammate, he instead decided to protect Machado. Pedroia emphatically told the media that Machado had meant no harm or intent to injure him with his aggressive slide on Friday night. At that moment all of Red Sox Nation who had been UNITED ALL WEEKEND LONG in condemning Machado, became suddenly divided when a huge faction of them switched their condemnation to Barnes. Yet not one single Orioles player, or Orioles fan all weekend long spoke out against their own player for recklessly injuring Pedroia two days earlier. In the end Barnes was officially Pedroia’s scapegoat, and Manny Machado was the victim.
Machado has an extensive record of violent confrontations on the field, extensive enough to not get any benefit of the doubt for his slide on Friday night. Matt Barnes has a stellar record all through the minors and in the majors. As inconvenient as it may be for all of the Pedroia/Machado supporters, Barnes also has a history of not being able to control his fast ball. Due to that very fact, Barnes still does not have a defined roll in the Red Sox bullpen.
Both Machado and Barnes’ incidents both happened in the heat of battle, at the height of intense competition. While there may still be retaliation, both sides are even for the moment. However, the biggest crime of the weekend was definitely committed by Dustin Pedroia. Barnes was trying to be a good teammate, and Pedroia completely sold him out in the most public way possible, in front of millions of people. It was an incredibly dishonorable display, and a colossal failure of leadership. Perhaps most importantly of all, Pedroia failed his team.
It’s extremely disappointing that such an intense fan base that considers itself to be “Boston Strong” could quickly unravel and become very divided. If I’ve learned anything about loyalty in my 33 years on this earth, it’s that once it renders an individual completely incapable of performing an honorable duty or taking an honorable stance, it can become a very TOXIC quality.