LOS ANGELES — This is all you need to know about how egregiously Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado violated the code of conduct among players Tuesday night: he was called out harshly by not just one of his peers but the best player on the Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich.
“The guy showed the whole world right now his true colors,” Yelich told me after the Dodgers outlasted Milwaukee, 2–1, in 13 innings to even the National League Championship Series at two games each. Machado scored the winning run, but this game will stick to him like flypaper because of how he clipped the leg of Milwaukee first baseman Jesus Aguilar while running out what should have been a routine out.
To Yelich and the Brewers, and to anybody who brings an impartial eye to the video, it appeared that Machado intentionally hit Aguilar with his left leg.
“It’s a dirty play,” Yelich said. “Dude, you just grounded out. We’ve all grounded out. Just run through the bag like the rest of the world.
“There’s no place for it in the game. None. This is the postseason! It’s unbelievable, really. There’s no place for that in the game.
“He’s had a history. It happens once with him? It’s an accident? The fourth or fifth time? It’s intentional.”
Give Yelich credit for stepping up and speaking honestly. When Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas was asked about the play, he took the veteran’s politically-correct avoidance tactic. “I was all the way over at third base,” he said, recusing himself from the hearings. That’s the way most players handle such incidents: grumble privately, but take no stand publically. It’s the easy way out.
Not Yelich. He was in rightfield, even farther from the play than Moustakas. But like everybody else on the Brewers, with screens all over the clubhouse, he watched the replay and saw something so odious from Machado that he couldn’t stay silent.
“I don’t care,” Yelich told me. “I’ll say it to anybody.”
Already a nail-biting, competitive and fiercely-pitched series, the NLCS just exploded from chess match to grudge match. When I asked him if he thought the Machado incident would carry over to today’s Game 5, Yelich said, “It’s the postseason. I don’t know about that.”
Nobody wants to risk a postseason game by carrying out retribution, though you can be sure some day it’s coming from the Brewers to Machado, a free agent-to-be whose reputation may give some clubs pause about purchasing his sublime baseball skills.
In 2014 he was involved in a brawl sparked by his altercation on the bases with Josh Donaldson. The same year he was suspended for throwing a bat in the direction of pitcher Fernando Abad. In 2016 he charged the mound to go after the late Yordano Ventura. In 2017 he slid late into Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, injuring Pedroia and sparking a beanball war with the Red Sox.
Before Game 3 he told FS1 that he didn’t run hard on a groundball in Game 2 because he’s never been a “Johnny Hustle.” And then in that game he twice took slides into second base that by definition were illegal—one was ruled interference and the other was not penalized on the technicality that Orlando Arcia, the Brewers shortstop covering second as Machado slid, did not attempt a throw to first base for a double play, a requisite for getting such a call.
It was the 10th inning Tuesday night with one out and nobody on base when Machado hit a routine grounder to Arcia, who threw to Aguilar to easily retire Machado. It was not a close play. But with Aguilar’s big foot still on the bag – Aguilar is 6' 3" and 315 pounds—Machado stepped on Aguilar’s foot with his right foot and then dragged his left foot across Aguilar’s lower leg.
Aguilar immediately took exception and benches quickly emptied because of the combative postures of the two of them. Machado later spoke at length with Aguilar at first base in the 13th after reaching on a single.
“We’re all family,” Machado said, attempting to push away any controversy.
Well, no, even though Machado sent a pre-game birthday cake to his long-time buddy and former Orioles teammate Jonathan Schoop, the Brewers second baseman. These teams are not one big happy family—not now.
“He does stay on the bag a long time,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said of Aguilar, in defense of his teammate. “I’ve hit his foot before. Like Manny said, he’s not going to step on the side of the bag and risk turning an ankle if he’s on top of the bag.”
The Brewers aren’t buying it. They saw plenty of bag for Machado to simply touch and run through without incident.
It was an absolute grinder of a game. It was 315 minutes of why hitting today, especially in these games with so much on the line, is so difficult. There were 32 strikeouts and only 15 hits. There were 16 pitchers, with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts lucking out when his team won when they did, because he ended up with Julio Urias as his long man—a kid coming off shoulder surgery who had not thrown more than 44 pitches or 2 1/3 innings since he returned in rookie ball in August. Urias threw only one inning.
You can whine if you wish about hitters “swinging for the fences” and all those punchouts. But one pitcher after another brought filthy stuff to the mound, including a boatload of breaking balls. Few pitchers challenge anybody with fastballs in what used to be fastball counts. Finely calibrated defensive shifts swallowed up what would have been hits for a hundred years. There were no errors over more than five hours of baseball.
No, this game was not the time to cry about how “launch angles” are ruining the game. This was simply an exhibit, albeit an extremely lengthy one, about how baseball is played in 2018. It’s hard to get a ball in play against the growing army of nasty-throwing relievers, and hard to get a hit even when you do.
But all of those aesthetics and strategic drama faded into the background simply because of one play, and if before the game you would guess which player might be involved in any sort of controversy, Machado would have been a perfectly fine first guess. The guy is a gifted player who finds himself too often in the center of a storm. When it happens over and over again, you begin to wonder if he is the storm.