On Friday evening, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado slid into second base on a force play. He started his slide a little bit late and ended up spiking Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, one of the most beloved players both on his team and in his town, on the same leg he'd had the knee surgically repaired last year. We are reasonable people, you and I, and we can reasonably disagree as to whether or not Machado meant to hurt Pedroia. Pedroia doesn't think he did, I don't think he did, but if you do think he did, that's fine, I congratulate you on your ability to dig inside the mind and split-second decisions of a 24-year-old professional baseball player you have never met so thoroughly and definitively (it's all good, we're fine, that's not what we're talking about here anyway).
What matters is not the slide itself, even if Pedroia's still a little hurt from it and might even have to go on the disabled list. What matters is Pedroia's reaction to everything that happened afterward. I'm starting to think that Dustin Pedroia is the one sane man in baseball.
If you happened to miss it -- in case you were, say, actually watching baseball rather than watching grown men act like children -- after Machado's slide, the Red Sox threw soft tosses at Machado's knees a couple of times on Sunday, as is the custom in this dumb ritual, a team pretending to throw at a player intentionally over something that (almost certainly) happened accidentally and calling it "sticking up for their teammate." That could have been the end of it, until this happened.
Matt Barnes was immediately ejected, which led Red Sox manager John Farrell to come out of the dugout and protest, as if his pitcher had not just thrown a pitch right at the head of one of the best players in baseball. (So far behind him that it hit his bat resting on his shoulder. Imagine if that ball had bounced off the bat and went fair. Barnes could have grabbed it and then punched Machado in the face, claiming that "I was just tagging him out.") This is a shocking thing to witness: a large man who makes a living by being able to throw things hard using that professional ability and expertise to fire a hard object directly at the head of another person who has no way to defend himself, isn't carrying a shield or anything. In a sane world, most humans who watched that would think, "Man, that was a terrible thing to do."
But that's not what many, many humans did. Farrell went out to defend his pitcher. The NESN announcers said, "we know this was coming," as if announcing the arrival of a scheduled train. Some Red Sox writer for Barstool Sports swiftly congratulated Barnes on his achievement.
(The writer slightly walked that Tweet back postgame, but couldn't help but add, "Machado has built quite the reputation of being a player who often gets thrown at for the sh-t that he does on the field." That whole column -- which basically takes every turn it can to make sure it knocks over every "the Red Sox are always right even if they murdered a beloved family pet right in front of me" cone in the road -- is a fun experiment in seeing what happens when you encourage semi-sentient oxen to write about baseball.)
But the NESN announcers were right about one thing: We did know it was coming. The stage had been set the day before.
Not that Orioles fans were in the clear on this either.
Hope the O's throw at Pedroia at Fenway next week. Multiple times- Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 23, 2017
And if Pedroia is on the DL, then let Mookie duck 3-4 times in the next series- Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 23, 2017
It feels odd to have to say this, but: You know you're not actually on the team, right? Everyone? All of you? It is one thing to live and die with whether or not your team wins or loses; I do this every single day, to the detriment of my spiritual well-being. It is another to hope that one person you do not know and have no actual connection to causes physical pain to another, different person you do not know and have no actual connection to. What is the satisfaction we get out of seeing a human being who plays for a team we're not cheering for get brained? I'm legitimately asking.
Anyway! The strangest thing about all this was that this was all expected, that this was What You Do. A sentiment popped up this morning that this meant Boston and Baltimore had a Real Rivalry Now, as if this was what truly escalated it, a tall man trying to hit another tall man in the face with an flying object, now we can really pay attention to these games. Barnes did what he was supposed to, Machado has to take it, this is How Baseball Works. Remember, the instigating incident was one man sprinting toward another man and accidentally hitting his leg with spiked shoes that everybody wears. It's unfortunate, but, you know, it'll happen when people run really fast in close proximity to other people. It's not like Machado is the only guy with spikes on his shoes, and he, like, pushed a button to make them pop out when he saw Pedroia's leg as a ready target.
This was what was supposed to happen. This is the way it works.
Which is why everything Pedroia -- the guy who actually got hurt in this situation, the guy who still hasn't played since the slide, the only guy who might conceivably be irritated by the play, accident or not -- has done in the last 48 hours is so refreshing. Pedroia is not talking like a crazy baseball person. He is talking like a real, live human being, with a real, live human brain capable of logic, empathy and perspective.
On Friday, Pedroia said the slide wasn't a big deal, that it was a dumb slide, not because Machado hurt him, but because Pedroia was set up poorly to tag him and left Machado, had he not slid poorly, able to make it to second safely. He said he did not want the Red Sox to retaliate. He said the whole thing was stupid. He even gave this classic, you-people-are-all-morons quote: "I'm not the baseball police, man. I've got three kids. I don't have time for that."
Then, after Barnes' pitch, he did this:
Fascinating exchange captured by MASN between Machado and Pedroia. Dustin clearly saying "It wasn't me. I know that and you know that." pic.twitter.com/oqdt827ER9- Dave Tucker (@TestudoDave) April 23, 2017
After the game, he said he texted Machado to apologize. He went on: "I just told him [Machado] I had nothing to do with that. I just told him that's not how you do that. I said sorry to him and his team. If you're going to protect guys, you do it the right away. And he knows that and both teams know that, so it was definitely a mishandled situation. There was zero chance that [Machado] was trying to hurt me. He just made a bad slide and he did hurt me. That's just baseball, man. I'm not mad at him. I love Manny Machado. I love playing against him. I love watching him."
This is, again, what a sane person says. It was an accident. Manny Machado is a great player. I wanted nothing to do with this. Can we all please stop throwing things at each other's heads? Can we stop acting like children? Please?
Pedroia is one of the best baseball players you have ever seen. He led off a World Series with a home run when his current left fielder was 13 years old. He is building a sneaky-good Hall of Fame case. He has been the centerpiece and rock of a Red Sox franchise that has gone through near-annual turnover and chaos, rises and falls, championships and chicken-and-beer, since he got there. He is one of the most likable, steady, fun players in the game. LASER SHOW, man.
And he's saying we are all being stupid and acting like babies and that we should stop it. What is he getting for this? What's the response to the one guy who actually has suffered any misfortune from Machado's slide saying it's all good and everything's cool so everybody please chill out? He "threw his teammates under the bus," says this guy . "A player with a lesser reputation for being team-first might not get away with [apologizing to Machado]," says another guy. We just can't stop hitting ourselves in the face with sticks.
The Orioles come to Fenway Park a week from today. We're going to have to go through all this again. At this point, I'm fully expecting a Red Sox pitcher throwing at Pedroia for not sticking up for himself. I love this game so, so much. But man, sometimes, the "unwritten rules" of baseball are so dumb it just hurts your soul.