It needed to happen. And it needed to happen on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
With two outs in the top of the first inning, Chris Sale threw a 98-mph fastball behind the knees of Manny Machado. Both the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles received warnings from the home-plate umpire.
By my calculations, it was the Red Sox’ attempt to even things up after Orioles starter Dylan Bundy hit Mookie Betts in the hip with a fastball the previous night.
This feud began nearly two weeks ago at Camden Yards, when Machado slid over second base and spiked Dustin Pedroia, forcing him to miss several games. Two games later, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes responded by throwing a fastball over the head of Machado.
When Betts was hit on Monday night, it reeked of retaliation for Barnes’ attempted chin music. But if you’re willing to accept that Machado’s slide is what started this whole fiasco, then you should also be willing to accept that the Red Sox owed one to the O’s.
That’s where Sale entered the picture.
It didn’t have to be Machado. Of course, the spotlight was still on him after he pimped a home run off Rick Porcello on Monday night, watching it fly and taking a whole 30 seconds to round the bases. Then there’s his history of being involved with on-field altercations, because, lets face it, he’s a punk.
Again, it didn’t have to be Machado. But it had to be somebody. And not just to even things up. There was more to this than an “eye for an eye.”
The Red Sox were embarrassed the night before. They lost the game to the Orioles on Monday. Betts was plunked. And Machado was prancing around the base paths as if to rub it in that he was feeling nice and comfortable at the plate in Boston. The Sox also made four errors in the loss and had a costly base-running blunder in the eighth inning, which was clearly Hanley Ramirez’ fault.
It was a play in which Andrew Benintendi didn’t go to third on Ramirez’ hit to left field. Ramirez rounded first and kept running to second, resulting in both Benintendi and Ramirez standing on the same base.
Afterwards, Ramirez said this: “I don’t throw my teammates under the bus. That’s my fault. That’s it.”
Make of that what you will. But you can’t convince me it wasn’t a shot at Pedroia, who threw Barnes under the bus immediately after Barnes was ejected for throwing at Machado. Pedroia basically apologized for it from the top step of the dugout, yelling over to Machado, “That’s not me, that’s him,” and then doubled down on it after the game, saying, “I love Manny Machado.”
According to reports, Ramirez tried to protect Barnes from the media in the days after Pedroia’s public apology to Machado. So when Ramirez decries throwing teammates under the bus after a frustrating night where the Red Sox were completely embarrassed by that same Orioles team, I don’t believe there’s any coincidence.
And somewhere in the middle of it all, you had Xander Bogaerts telling reporters that the team misses David Ortiz, following a loss to the New York Yankees at Fenway last week.
Of course they miss Ortiz. But spilling your guts about it after a loss was another sign that this thing was taking a turn for the worst.
And again, that’s where Sale entered the picture. At that point, the Red Sox needed more than just retribution. They needed a new leader. They desperately needed someone to step up and say, “This is my team now.”
So Sale let one fly behind Machado. Then he went on to strike out 11 in eight innings, leading the Red Sox to a win.
The Red Sox got even with the Orioles on Tuesday night. But they also got something more important in the process.
A new captain.
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