On a day honoring arguably the greatest third baseman of all time -- legendary Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson -- the rookie phenom now patrolling the hot corner for Baltimore showed a little of what he can do.
Twenty-year-old third baseman Manny Machado stood attentively in the Orioles dugout as Robinson -- a sculpture of him just unveiled in the plaza behind center field at Camden Yards -- stood on the field and stirred up an announced sellout crowd of 46,311.
“How ‘bout them O’s?” Robinson said.
Then come game time, these Orioles took a significant step toward their first postseason berth in 15 years, beating the Red Sox 4-3 at Camden Yards, and putting themselves into a first-place tie with the New York Yankees atop the American League East with just four games to play in the regular season.
“Four games left, dead heat,” said first baseman Mark Reynolds. “We can’t control what [the Yankees] do. We can only control what we do. And we’re in control of our own destiny. We’ve got to win out.”
The Orioles (91-67), who also improved their record to a remarkable 28-9 in one-run games, can clinch a postseason berth with a win in Sunday’s regular-season home finale if the Angels lose one game of their day-night doubleheader.
Machado broke open a tied game with the seventh homer of his big league career, a line-drive solo shot that just cleared the left-field fence off Boston starter Felix Doubrant.
Earlier in the game, the rookie also started a double-play reminiscent of Robinson, the winner of 16 Gold Gloves. With a runner on first and one out in the fourth, Cody Ross hit a sharp grounder down the third-base line that Machado backhanded and threw to second while running into foul ground to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
“We had a lot of pressure for us to win with Brooks here,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It was pretty apropos that the third baseman made a couple of really nice plays.”
Before the game, Robinson himself complimented Machado, a converted shortstop who played just two minor league games at Double-A Bowie at third before joining the Orioles in early August.
“This kid seems like he can play anywhere,” Robinson said. “He’s got a great arm and a great instinct. ... He’s a terrific player and nobody’s really fooled him when it comes to hitting. He swings the bat and gets his hits.”
Chris Davis’ 30th homer, a two-run shot in the bottom of the fourth inning, gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead and gave the club a pair of 30-homer hitters in the same season — combining with Adam Jones (32 homers) — for the sixth time in franchise history.
The Orioles went up 1-0 in the second inning on Machado’s single up the middle, driving in Davis from third. Mark Reynolds, who singled prior to Machado, was thrown out at third by Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
Boston cut the Orioles’ lead to one in the fifth on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s two-run homer off Steve Johnson.
Johnson, a St. Paul’s grad who has won all three of his previous big league starts, struggled with his control through the middle innings after he was hit by a batted ball in his right foot in the fourth. He issued a leadoff walk to Mauro Gomez in the fifth, then left an 0-1 pitch over the plate that Saltalamacchia planted high into the right-center field stands.
“It kind of threw me out of my groove a little bit,” said Johnson, who was wearing a walking boot after the game. “It did affect me. I was cutting the ball a lot. [I] just tried to do my best after that. I was in a pretty good groove and it kind of just threw me off.”
The 25-year-old right-hander ran into trouble in the sixth, allowing a leadoff single to Ellsbury and then walking Scott Podsednik, prompting Showalter to turn to the bullpen and right-hander Tommy Hunter.
After Dustin Pedroia hit into a force out at second to put runners at the corners, Ross hit a routine fly ball to right that Davis dropped in front of Jones, scoring Ellsbury to tie the game.
Hunter escaped the inning, inducing a grounder by Gomez to the right of the mound and starting a 1-6-3 inning-ending double play.
Machado wasn’t the only one who shined defensively. Reynolds made a highlight-worthy catch on Mike Aviles’ popup in foul ground, drifting back down behind right field and reaching into the stands falling in between the brick façade and the tarp roll
“It’s coming down to the end,” Reynolds said. “That’s what we play for, here having fun, going out, believing we can win every game, and that definitely shows. We’re playing with house money, and just run with it and see where we go.”
Machado called his game-winning homer, which came on a 1-1 two-seam fastball, the biggest hit of his young major league career.
“I’m just trying to play the game,” Machado said. “Obviously, it’s bigger than any other games I’ve played before. I’m just gonna try to go out there and give everything I can to try and help this team win.”
The Orioles bullpen held the lead, tossing four scoreless innings — capped by Jim Johnson’s scoreless ninth for his 49th save — and improving the club’s record when leading after seven innings to 72-0.
After the game, several current Orioles looked back to the pregame ceremony honoring Robinson – Mr. Oriole – and the tonesetter.
“I had [goosebumps] the whole time,” Reynolds said.
“I just think it was really special to be a part of that,” Davis said. “You heard all the people talk about how good a person he is.. ... To have him out there and just being able to be in his presence, it was an honor for us to go out there and win. I think it was a great night for the Orioles tonight.”