It’s downright scary to think Orioles third baseman Manny Machado still can’t buy a beer legally.
Yes, it’s a tired cliché used for virtually any young professional athlete enjoying success beyond his years, but it’s a context to which most of us can relate. Every time you watch Machado thrive like he did Saturday night against the Dodgers or in Boston where he hit a three-run homer to lead Baltimore to a comeback win earlier this month, just remember he’s more than two months away from his 21st birthday on July 7.
Center fielder Adam Jones nicknamed him the “Baby Face Assassin” after that game-winning blow at Fenway Park.
Perhaps the biggest compliment we could pay Machado at this point is that you expect him to be successful even though we remember how challenging the game can be, regardless of age.
He was born three months after Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened and made an immediate impact in the 20th anniversary of the cherished ballpark. Machado was still in junior high when right fielder Nick Markakis — not exactly someone you view to be “old” by any means — made his major league debut in 2006.
But there the 2010 first-round pick was again on Saturday, hitting a three-run homer and an RBI double to lead the Orioles to a 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead of relishing in the performance, Machado appeared relieved to put what he described as several recent subpar games at the plate behind him.
Shy and reserved when talking to reporters, Machado comes across as a teammate simply wanting to blend in despite being viewed as the franchise player of the future.
“You know I just think the more at-bats I get, the more comfortable I am at the plate,” Machado said. “It comes with experience. This game is all about experience.”
Machado’s right, so how is he finding so much success without that much-needed experience?
He was called up from Double-A Bowie last August — in the midst of a pennant race — to man a position he’d played all of two games in the minor leagues. The lifelong shortstop has proceeded to look as though he’s played the hot corner his entire life, using a cannon of a throwing arm and barehanded picks masterfully at the position. The only question now is whether the Orioles will resist moving him back to shortstop at some point in the next year or two.
Asked to hit in the No. 2 hole this year after hitting toward the bottom of the lineup in the final two months of his rookie season, Machado entered Sunday’s action hitting .268 with two home runs and 11 runs batted in. His .307 on-base percentage doesn’t exactly scream top-of-the-order hitter just yet, but the 6-foot-2 right-handed hitter shows flashes of good patience and puts together enough at-bats to instill confidence that he will handle a higher spot in the order moving forward.
Machado dropped a key bunt in the 10th inning of Thursday’s game against Tampa Bay that hugged the first-base line so closely that he reached base with a single and eventually scored on Matt Wieters’ walk-off grand slam. He said after the game he could recall only one time in his minor-league career in which he was directed to drop a sacrifice bunt, but the 6-foot-2 infielder has been working on the craft throughout his time with the organization.
“I think about that as development,” manager Buck Showalter said. “All the people in the farm system who don’t let him not be good at that. Everybody thinks he’s got a chance to be a run producer. That’s something that — it’s not their fault — it’s our fault if they don’t come up here with that.”
Anything the club asks, Machado does — even if it isn’t always flawless.
He still has at-bats and certain days against pitchers in which he looks overmatched, but those moments of failure appear less frequently as time goes on.
Machado had a moment Saturday in which he attempted the deke he used famously against Tampa Bay last season in which he threw out a runner at third base, but it didn’t work this time against the Dodgers and allowed a runner to reach first base in the process.
But then you remember once again he’s 20 years old, a point in his development in which most players — even very talented ones — are toiling at Single A and only dreaming of making such bold defensive plays against major league players.
Machado’s three-run shot Saturday came on the same night in which the Orioles remembered the late Earl Weaver, the man who loved that particular scoring play. Even though the third baseman was born more than five years after Weaver managed his final game in 1986, you know the Hall of Fame skipper would be impressed with Machado’s continue development.
As for that elusive beer, Machado won’t ever need to worry about buying one in this town if he continues on the same track.
More than a few Orioles fans will be willing to pick up the tab.
When he’s old enough, of course.