Dustin Pedroia effectively rendered a decision about his teammates’ actions in the Manny Machado affair Sunday, about 24 hours before Major League Baseball issued the terms of discipline against pitcher Matt Barnes and the Boston Red Sox on Monday.
After Pedroia called the Red Sox retaliation attempt against Machado a “mishandled situation” and apologized to Machado and the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon, all that was left for MLB to do, really, was identify the appropriate level of penalty. Barnes was given a four-game suspension and a fine for nearly hitting Machado in the head with a fastball.
The penalty for Machado, who injured Pedroia with a slide Friday night? Nothing.
The penalty for any other member of the Orioles? Nothing.
Which is exactly how it should’ve come down, after a weekend in which the Red Sox seemed to wait and waffle in their response to Machado’s slide, before completely botching the whole thing Sunday. The best part of the incident was that Machado was able to walk out of Camden Yards, rather than being wheeled out on a stretcher. The Orioles, on the other hand, were a model of comportment in the aftermath of Machado’s slide — starting with Machado himself, who immediately reached out to Pedroia empathetically, both on the field and with a text message.
The 33-year-old Pedroia was drafted by the Red Sox in 2004 and immediately became a favorite within the organization for his passion and confidence — and accountability. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, the AL MVP Award in 2008, and was integral to Boston’s championships in 2007 and 2013, while inspiring about a billion stories with his blunt humor. It had to have been upsetting to other Red Sox players when they saw Pedroia struggle to get to his feet after Machado clipped him just above the ankle with his slide. It seemed to upset Machado, too; this is the sort of respect that Pedroia has engendered.
But the immediate reaction among a lot of players and executives with other teams about Machado’s slide was: It wasn’t really that out of line.
“It was kind of an awkward slide,” said one scout. “Because he started a little late. But when he went down, his feet popped up. It wasn’t like he targeted [Pedroia].”
From a player: “What’s all the talk about? His foot bounced up and he hit Pedroia accidentally. … Anybody who reads intent on that play is imagining things. He wasn’t trying to hurt him.”
“What’s all the talk about? His foot bounced up and he hit Pedroia accidentally. … Anybody who reads intent on that play is imagining things. He wasn’t trying to hurt him.”
MLB player on Machado’s slide into Pedroia
Still, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the Red Sox had responded some kind of proportional response Saturday, even after Pedroia indicated to reporters he personally didn’t have any trouble with Machado’s slide, saying he wasn’t the slide police. If knuckleballer Steven Wright had bounced a fastball off Machado’s calf or thrown a pitch behind him Saturday, it probably wouldn’t have surprised anybody on the Orioles’ side.
You do wonder if somebody in the Red Sox clubhouse was spurred into action by outside forces: In at least one case, a reporter suggested retaliation against Machado would be appropriate, and there were other tweets and words that went almost as far.
There is some precedent for the media fueling this sort of thing. Years ago, after Roger Clemens threw a shattered bat in the direction of New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series, there was such an enormous run-up of media scrutiny leading up to Clemens’s next game in Shea Stadium that Shawn Estes — who hadn’t even been with the 2000 Mets — felt compelled to flip a half-hearted fastball in Clemens’s direction in the batter’s box.
But whether the Red Sox sincerely believed that Machado had crossed the line or they allowed themselves to be bullied by media expectations, Eduardo Rodriguez seemed to finally attempt retaliation against Machado Sunday. In Machado’s third plate appearance, Rodriguez repeatedly — and carefully — threw the ball down and way inside to Machado, who stepped around the pitches.
If all of the Red Sox had followed one of the unwritten rules of situations like this, that attempt would’ve ended the matter. “Once you take a shot at somebody like that,” said one team staffer Sunday evening, “that’s it. If you missed him, that’s on you.”
Instead, Barnes threw the fastball behind Machado’s head, the placement that a lot of hitters consider to be the most dangerous, because the reflex is to duck backward from an inside fastball. The pitch missed Machado, Barnes was ejected, and Pedroia looked over at Machado in the on-deck circle and separated himself from the choices made by others, saying: That wasn’t me.
There was a lot of speculation around baseball Monday that Pedroia might have to make amends with others wearing Red Sox uniforms after he criticized his team’s actions. But Pedroia seemed intent on trying to do the right thing, and so did the Orioles.
Machado has charged a mound before and has made more than his share of mistakes. Lessons can be learned, however, and after Barnes’s beanball attempt, the 24-year-old Machado said nothing to the pitcher, made no move toward the mound. No Oriole did.
It would be reasonable to assume that the Orioles at least discussed possible retaliation, but no Baltimore pitcher used a baseball as a weapon against a prone and helpless target. Neither Mookie Betts nor Andrew Benintendi was treated as a human piñata.
The Orioles did all the right stuff in an incident that escalated from something unfortunate into something colossally ridiculous and dangerous, and Major League Baseball was right to assign all blame and the discipline on the Red Sox.