The young man has gone West. Manny Machado joins the Los Angeles Dodgers following Wednesday’s trade that brought the Orioles a return package of five prospects headlined by outfielder Yusniel Diaz. The move comes as part of what Dan Duquette pledges is a new direction for the ball club that will include a focus on analytics and international scouting.
O’s fans have processed their grief by eulogizing Machado, sharing abundant memories of outstanding games and plays as he launched his career in Charm City. The multi-homer efforts, the walk-offs, the deke versus the Rays, the Brooks Robinsonesque throw out from foul territory in the Bronx – it’s all there.
The Orioles’ abysmal first-half record offered undeniable indication that the team’s much-discussed window of opportunity has finally closed. The Machado trade simply provided the heart-wrenching coda. Turn off the stadium lights, the party is officially over following five winning seasons, three playoff appearances, and one division title. Lest it be forgotten, the O’s won more games than any other American League team from 2012 through 2016.
That last sentence seems hard to fathom given that the franchise totaled 14 consecutive losing seasons prior to 2012. Sure, the 2012-2016 O’s never won as many games in a season (98) or in a league championship series (two) as the previous winning outfit, the 1997 Orioles, but it was the most sustained success the team had in taking on all comers since before a-ha released “Take on Me.” (Insert your own spoof of the “I’ll be gone in a day or two” lyrics here.)
Let’s go back to the beginning of that successful stretch to the uplifting 2012 season and Machado’s debut in orange and black.
Perhaps you’ll remember – or more likely you won’t – that Nate McLouth and Lew Ford homered on the same day in Norfolk one month and then did it again in Baltimore the next. It was also the season that Taylor Teagarden had three walk-off hits including a two-run homer in his second appearance with the O’s.
Pythagorean expectations had the 93-win 2012 outfit with the plus-seven run differential projected for an 82-80 finish. A 29-9 record in one-run games and a 16-2 record in extra-innings contests helped the team defy those odds and ultimately advance to the division series after Joe Saunders got the win for the O’s and Yu Darvish took the loss for the Rangers in the 2012 wild card game.
Manny Machado entered the fray during an otherwise uninspiring 8-2 loss to the then-lowly – but later villainous – Kansas City Royals on Aug. 9, 2012. Machado, replacing Wilson Betemit at third base on the lineup card, tripled in his second big league at-bat and finished the night with two hits. The next day the 20-year-old became the youngest Oriole with a multi-homer game. Betemit got 20 at-bats for the remainder of the season.
The timing of Machado’s debut and the position he played both came as a surprise, which was as remarkable then as it is now. Machado played just two games at third base for the Bowie Baysox in 2012 but had taken pregame grounders roughly four times a week since that May with Bobby Dickerson. In a season full of pleasant surprises that left hardened fans like myself continually waiting for the other cleat to drop, the Orioles instead dropped a generational baseball talent into our collective laps for the stretch run.
Perhaps more than any play or moment, I’ll most remember Machado’s debut series in Baltimore and the feelings that went with it as a fan. Four games, six hits, three homers, and five runs scored. The latest – and ultimately the greatest – piece to the team’s puzzling success had arrived. It was the start of something special.