Manny Machado was the last line of defense for the Dodgers on Sunday night, the final hope for the home team in its desperate quest to extend the World Series another day and avoid allowing an opponent to celebrate a championship on its turf. He was acquired for moments like those, when the Dodgers needed a spark from his otherworldly talent. He did not provide one. Machado struck out on a slider from Chris Sale at his feet. His defensive swing left him on one knee. It was likely the impending free agent’s final act as a Dodger.
If Machado’s Dodgers career ended Sunday night, it ended quietly. He did not partake in any villainous acts in Game 5 of the World Series. He did not incite any controversy. There also wasn’t any production. Machado went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in the Dodgers’ 5-1 season-ending loss to the Boston Red Sox.
The Dodgers’ marquee midseason acquisition, added during the All-Star break to replace the injured Corey Seager at shortstop, did not meet the expectations he set with a marvelous All-Star first half as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. After batting .315 with 24 home runs and a .965 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his first 96 games as a full-time shortstop in Baltimore, Machado hit .273 with 13 home runs and an .825 OPS in 66 games in Los Angeles to close out the regular season. The numbers plunged further during an eventful postseason, when he batted .227 with 18 strikeouts, four walks and three home runs in 71 playoff plate appearances.
“Manny is a super talent, I think we all know that,” said Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley, whose career ended Sunday. “And, getting to know him, you realize he’s a good baseball player and he knows what he’s doing on the baseball field. I think everyone enjoyed being around him. He made us a better team when he came over here and I imagine he’s going to have a lot of options this winter.”
But Machado’s play was veiled by his behavior during the National League Championship Series and his long history with the Red Sox. It started when he didn’t run out a groundball in Game 2 against the Milwaukee Brewers. In a television interview aired a few days later, Machado said, “there’s no excuse for it.” But he also added, “I’m not a player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle.’ … That’s just not my personality. That’s not my cup of tea. That’s not who I am.”
In Game 3, his hard slide into second base to break up a double play was ruled illegal. In Game 4, he stepped on Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar’s foot running through first base. The incident cleared the benches. Brewers players called Machado dirty. Machado was fined $10,000.
Machado did not hide from the resulting scorn. When Brewers fans relentlessly booed him at Miller Park in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, Machado encouraged the jeers and signaled for more. Boos welcomed him at Fenway Park for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series from fans who hadn’t forgiven Machado for taking out beloved second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a slide last season. His role as the antihero was solidified and he embraced it, down to his wardrobe — Machado left the clubhouse after Game 4 with a Dodger blue snapback reading “vilLAins.”
“I mean, there’s nothing to say,” Machado said when asked if he had a message for those who’ve questioned his on-field behavior. “Everyone’s going to have their own opinions on everything. The only thing that matters is these 25 guys in here.”
There’s a good chance those 25 guys won’t be Machado’s teammates next season. Machado will join Bryce Harper as the top two free agents on the market. He will solicit intense interest from various clubs and is expected to land one of the most expensive contracts in baseball history. Meanwhile, Seager is expected to return from elbow ligament replacement and hip surgeries next season as the Dodgers’ shortstop, and Justin Turner has third base locked down.
That was known all along. Machado was acquired for the playoff push, to bolster the Dodgers’ chances of securing their first championship in 30 years. They fell three wins short. They’ll try again next year likely without him.