Column: Manny Machado, our lovable villain
Los Angeles Times sports writer Andy McCullough and columnists Dylan Hernandez and Bill Plaschke discuss the Los Angeles Dodgrers winning the NLCS and heading to their second straight World Series.
The final word didn’t come in the form of a thunderous home run or a lightning bolt of a throw across his body.
With the continuous and deafening boos making Miller Park sound like a hive of angry bees Saturday night, Manny Machado responded not with brute force but with graceful technique.
The villain of this postseason worked a full count against Milwaukee Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin in the second inning, then did the unexpected.
The fans here taunted Machado mercilessly over the last two days.
This was payback, and not only because Machado caught third baseman Mike Moustakas and everyone else in the indoor stadium off-guard.
Machado’s bunt single was followed by a two-run home run by Cody Bellinger that reversed a one-run deficit, bestowing the Dodgers with a lead they never relinquished in an eventual 5-1 victory. The Dodgers won the National League Championship Series, four games to three, and were headed to the World Series. The Brewers and their fans weren’t.
“This is the best, this is the best,” Machado said in Spanish on how the stadium was silent by the end of the night.
What the Dodgers learned in their Game 7 triumph was that their rent-an-All-Star is a player who thrives in times in conflict. At very least, he doesn’t mind it.
Switching to English, the bilingual Machado said, “I just hear what they say. Just enjoy it. They’re always going to boo the best, so I just take it all in.”
The bunt was an instantaneous reaction to what he perceived to be a slight.
“You don’t really want to know what I want to say right now,” Machado said.
He later revealed that Chacin delivered the pitch before he was ready to hit.
“He quick-pitched me,” Machado said. “I’m going to drop one down. I know it was a little ballsy, but anything to win.”
If the hit was his statement, the gesture he made as he crossed first base was the punctuation. He grabbed his crotch.
“You know what?” Machado said. “Honestly, I have no idea. All I heard was, ‘Manny sucks!’”
The chant morphed into a stadium-wide screams of, “You-still-suck! You-still-suck!”
Immediately after Bellinger homered, Puig doubled and celebrated by raising his arm and making a chopping gesture toward his groin. Machado looked out to Puig from the bench and made a similar motion.
“That’s Puigy’s thing,” Machado said with a smile. “You have to go ask him about that.”
Machado’s temperament became a source of controversy over this series.
He will be a free agent this winter and is expected to sign a nine-figure contract, he hasn’t made a concerted effort to sell himself the way Manny Ramirez did a decade earlier.
He is purposely bland. His play on the field has been uneven, spectacular on some days but completely uninspired on others.
Athletes like this are ignored in Los Angeles and he was — that was until he entered the postseason spotlight.
He didn’t run out a ground ball in a Game 2 victory. Shortly after that, he said in an interview with FS1 that he is “not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle.’”
As he ran out a ground ball, he dragged his foot as he ran through the bag, clipping the ankle of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar.
Hence, the boos at Miller Park.
He struck out twice and was hitless in four at-bats in a Game 6 loss.
He made up for it Saturday.
“He’s got so much ability,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations. “His talent is top-shelf.”
Friedman admitted Machado is a much better defensive shortstop than he thought before acquiring him.
And it could very well be that Machado is the kind of player who requires conflict to make the most of his gifts.
He was two for four in Game 4. He was eight for 27 with five runs in the series.
And he was one of the primary reasons the Dodgers are returning to the World Series.
He is a hero of this postseason. Another series victory and he can become a franchise legend.
Then he could relive the joy and relief he experience he felt Saturday night as coaches and teammates poured alcoholic beverages on his head.
Holding out a half-empty bottle of sparkling wine, Machado said, “I play for this.”
Then, he asked, “Where’s the trophy at?”
He called out again, this time to the entire room.
“Where’s the trophy at?” he shouted.
“That’s what I play for, baby,” he said. “That’s all I play for.”
And maybe also to ensure he has the last word.
The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate in the clubhouse after defeating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-1 in Game 7 of the 2018 National League Championship Series.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez
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