Machado trade paying off on time
Clutch blasts send Dodgers to NLCS
ATLANTA – Oh, so that’s why the Dodgers traded for Manny Machado. Not that there was ever really much doubt. Because when you’re the Dodgers, with an astronomical payroll and a roster built to win the World Series right now, you never know when you’re going to be in the middle of a playoff game against a newly confident young team, with the entire momentum of the series teetering on one or two key at-bats. That’s what it felt like when Machado came to the plate in the seventh inning Monday in Game 4 at SunTrust Park with two runners on and the Braves up against the ropes. In that moment, it didn’t matter that the Dodgers had to give up five prospects, including a couple of pretty good ones, to acquire Machado from the flailing Orioles in July. It didn’t matter that the 26-year-old fourtime All-Star could very well be a rental, with free agency looming as soon as the season ends. With one swing, sending Chad Sobotka’s four-seamer 393 feet over the left-field bullpen to all but clinch a 6-2 victory and the National League Division Series, the argument ended. For the Dodgers, whatever they gave up was worth it — and then some. “Can’t say enough about him, and obviously with a player of his caliber, there are so many expectations put on him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And we said it from the beginning that it’s going to take all of us to win a championship, and he understands that.” Machado had only three hits in four games against the Braves, but two of them — the three-run homer Monday and the two-run shot he hit in the first inning of Game 2 — were decisive blows for a team that didn’t necessarily hit to its potential in this series. Even for a lineup that already had just about everything, Machado proved that you can never have enough when the only measure of success is winning it all. And for Machado, that means the luxury of knowing he doesn’t have to do it by himself. “With the Orioles, he was supposed to be the guy that comes up with the big hits, and at times you can see that come out,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. “You’re still talking about a guy who’s 26 years old, and even though he’s played in the big leagues for a long time, he’s never been on a team that has as many guys as we do.” Machado insists he put no pressure on himself, nor, he says, did he envision the kind of playoff moment he got Monday when the Dodgers rescued him from the tailspin in Baltimore. Rather, he tried to find his fit in a locker room with prodigious talent, just as much personality and a singular goal to rectify last year’s World Series loss. “New ballclub, new atmosphere, new teammates, new coaching staff, new front office — it’s always (a) bit of an adjustment,” Machado said. “But they’ve been nothing but amazing to us, to myself, my family. “And coming to a winning ballclub who has been determined the whole way to be in this situation, I’m just enjoying everything, trying to enjoy the ride.” Now that ride continues into the National League Championship Series against the Brewers that begins Friday night in Milwaukee, but for a while in Game 4 it looked very much as if the Braves might actually force the NLDS back to Los Angeles for a Game 5, where anything could happen. For much of the day, the Dodgers looked like a team feeling the pressure of trying to close it out, unable to rattle Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz and flirting dangerously with disaster innings only to be rescued by the putrid back end of the Braves lineup. Machado even made an uncharacteristic defensive mistake at shortstop in the fifth inning with the Dodgers trailing 2-1, botching a ground ball from Johan Camargo that loaded the bases with one out and forced Roberts to pull starter Rich Hill. Once reliever Ryan Madson got them out of the jam, the Dodgers immediately retook the lead in the sixth inning, setting the table for Machado to eliminate all doubt. “Obviously it sucks. That was an easy play I should have made,” Machado said. “I could have easily got him out of the inning, so you just try to stay focused. But that’s why this team is so special. Guys can come in and shut the door, and that just tells you everything.” Though Machado hit just .273 in 66 games after getting traded to the Dodgers and .176 for the NL Division Series, his impact in a high-leverage situation underscores why he’s going to command huge money this offseason. In fact, it was obvious Atlanta was trying its best to avoid confrontation with Machado, pitching him out of the strike zone as best it could and making it tough for him in the series to consistently get good contact. But it was unavoidable Monday by the seventh inning. After Justin Turner’s single and Max Muncy’s walk with no outs, Machado was teed up to do something special. And in a moment that screamed equal parts “pay me” and “game, set, match,” Machado took a nice, slow trot around the bases at SunTrust Park, long after that rocket came off his bat. No matter what happens from here, hindsight is no longer necessary. Even if two or three of those former Dodgers prospects pan out for Baltimore, the Machado gamble was worth it. And it might not be done paying off.
Manny Machado’s three-run homer in Game 4 helped propel the Dodgers into the NLCS.