Machado trade pay­ing off on time

Clutch blasts send Dodgers to NLCS

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Dan Wolken

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.

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