LOS ANGELES — Remember when refusing to run was the worst thing Manny Machado did with his feet? Turns out, Machado is capable of doing damage to more than just his own reputation, as he showed Tuesday night in Game 4 of the NLCS by kicking Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar on the ankle after — believe it or not — sprinting down the line in the 10th inning.
Machado didn’t really elaborate on why he did what he did, other than to say he was “trying to get over him and hit his foot.” But after watching the replay numerous times, it certainly looked to us like Machado could have avoided contact, and clipped Aguilar on purpose.
That’s what the Brewers believed. They already were angry over Machado’s pair of aggressive slides the previous night, so seeing him kick Aguilar squirted more lighter fluid on those simmering coals.
“It’s a dirty play by a dirty player,” Christian Yelich said.
If the Brewers were drained by Tuesday’s 5-hour, 15-minute marathon, their exhaustion did nothing to quell that anger after losing, 2-1, in 13 innings. And it certainly made them more furious that Machado wound up scoring the winning run, racing home from second base on Cody Bellinger’s two-out single to rightfield.
The bizarre events of Game 4 pretty much encapsulated all that is attractive and annoying about Machado, from his rally-starting single in the 13th to scrambling to second on a wild pitch to nearly getting picked off before Bellinger’s chance to be the hero. In fact, if Brewers reliever Junior Guerra delivered a better throw, Machado was dead.
Instead, he wound up celebrating with his teammates, jumping around as Randy Newman’s “I love L.A.” blared through Chavez Ravine’s speakers. That pretty much erased all the bad stuff that had piled up around Machado before then, including his interview with The Athletic, posted earlier Tuesday, in which he did a terrible job rationalizing why he didn’t run hard to first base on a groundout in Game 2.
“Obviously I’m not going to change,” Machado told the Athletic. “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”
Either Machado didn’t realize the impact of that statement, or he just didn’t care. He knows he’s likely headed to a $300-million payday in free agency, and skipping a dash to first base on occasion isn’t going to change that. Frankly, it’s not that big of a deal, as plenty of MVP-caliber players are guilty of downshifting at times. Typically, however, they don’t admit to it as brazenly as Machado did. They’ll say sorry, maybe even insist it won’t happen again, even though it usually does.
If Machado doesn’t care about his image in that capacity, that’s fine. But there’s a major difference between mocking “Johnny Hustle” and doing bush league stuff to other players, such as his kick to Aguilar’s ankle. Aguilar was mad enough to exchange words with Machado, and moments later, both dugouts emptied, as well as the bullpens. The escalation stopped at a staredown, and Machado offered no apologies later.
“If that’s dirty, that’s dirty,” Machado said. “I don’t know. Call it what you want.”
Machado also shrugged off the Brewers’ animosity, responding: “I play baseball. I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments, that’s their comments. I can’t do nothing about that.”
As Machado mentioned, he is who he is, and that’s not changing. But for teams looking to sign him this winter, he is a perennial MVP candidate, who’s consistently good for 35-plus homers, 100 RBIs and a .900 OPS, worth all that money if it comes with all that baggage? It’s a safe bet that some club will pay Machado the megabucks he’s seeking, but his October also has illustrated the potential darker side of such a deal.
After Tuesday’s game was finally over, Machado said he and Aguilar were fine. The two even hugged briefly at first base after his 13th-inning single.
“We go way back,” Machado said. “What stays on the field, stays on the field, between the lines.”
The rest of the Brewers, judging by Yelich’s reaction, may not be so forgiving. While it’s risky to retaliate during a short series — and this is now a best of three, with only one left in L.A. — it wouldn’t be surprising if Machado eventually gets drilled, maybe when this returns to Milwaukee.
The only sure thing is that Machado will remain the center of attention for as long as he’s playing this October, and he doesn’t mind wearing the bull's-eye, no matter who he winds up hurting in the process.