MANNY MACHADO AND THE ART OF BREAKING UP THE DOUBLE PLAY

So. It will be the Red Sox and the Dodgers playing in the 2018 Fall Classic. At last.

Not since 1916 have these two clubs squared off in the World Series. The Boston Red Sox beat the Brooklyn Robins four games to one in the first — and until now only — WS meeting between the franchises.

The most celebrated members of the Sox in those halcyon days were Harry Hooper, Herb Pennock who put up a ‘dnp’ and a twenty-one-year-old left-handed pitcher by the name of George Ruth while the Robins boasted the likes of Rube Marquard, Casey Stengel and Zack Wheat, HOFers all. Another inductee of the hallowed Hall, Wilbert Robinson managed Brooklyn and Bill Carrigan piloted the victorious Boston bunch.

The venues were Ebbets Field and Braves Field — not Fenway Park which had been up and running since 1912 — where the Sox drew then-record attendance figures of 47,373 for Game 2 and 43,620 for the series-clinching Game 5.

102 years is a long time ago; the winning players’ share was $3,910 while the losers pocketed $2,835 apiece.

This season the Red Sox have won 115 games including the playoffs; the Dodgers 99. Chris Sale, David Price and Clayton Kershaw headline the list of top-flight left-handed starting pitching with Eduardo Rodriguez, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill occupying the second tier.

Interestingly the Dodger offense ranked eighth in the NL with an OPS of .733 against portsiders during the regular season and the Red Sox hitters compiled a .719 OPS against lefties, also good for eighth-best. Seems like a wash. LA rookie Walker Buehler could be the only righty in the Dodgers’ World Series rotation meaning that if it goes seven, the Sox could face lefty starters five times.

Certain line-up and bullpen strategies will assume heightened significance expectably. Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) will be played at Dodger Stadium without the AL’s designated hitter slot. J.D. Martinez will have to play in the outfield which could demand that Mookie Betts return to his second base position of yore. The Dodgers’ bench bats and platoon players including Brian Dozier, Joc Pederson, Matt Kemp, Enrique Hernandez, David Freese and Max Muncy offer manager Dave Roberts great tactical flexibility and plenty with which to meet the DH challenge at Fenway Park.

As for the bullpens in the Red Sox’ case, if not an Achilles Heel the middle-relief has been a weakness in an otherwise mighty arsenal of overall team talent. Alex Cora may be best-advised to continue using his off-day starters in short relief stints to get key outs.

In the ALDS win over the Yankees he turned to Sale and Rick Porcello in relief and during the ALCS triumph over the Astros, he used Nathan Eovaldi and Porcello to accomplish this purpose. Rodriguez will also be available as could knuckleballer Steven Wright.

[In what is admittedly a very small sample-size, a nod must be given to the power-trio of Red Sox relievers leading to closer Craig Kimbrel notably Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Joe Kelly who have combined for a 0.96 ERA in the postseason (2 ER in 18 ⅔ IP). Also, Cora can thank former Dodger teammate (no less) closer nonpareil Eric Gagne who noticed that Kimbrel was tipping his pitches and reached out to advise the manager of such. After tweaking some mechanics Kimbrel worked his first scoreless inning of the postseason. Kimbrel in large measure relies on swings and misses out of the zone and it stands to reason that if hitters know what’s coming they won’t bite. He could be back to resembling his Hall-of-Fame resume-self].

And then there is Manny Machado. Boy is there. Baseball’s designated villain. Machado is loaded with ability — he can hit, he can hit with power, he can field, he can throw and he can run when he wants to — but even to those who know him best, he is an enigma.

Says his former manager Buck Showalter with candor, “Manny is not malicious, but then you see some of that stuff and you go, ‘C’mon, man. Really?’ As a teammate, manager or coach, you’re trying to be supportive, but he has to give me something to work with. It’s hard to defend that.”

Brewers MVP candidate Christian Yelich was more to the point when he went on the record and called Machado a “dirty player.”

Sox second-baseman Dustin Pedroia, and Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia and first-baseman Jesus Aguilar would have every reason to agree. Pedroia who has played three games for Boston this year and is inactive for the Series has never been quite the same since Machado, then with the Orioles, came barrelling into second spikes-high during a 2017 early-season meeting. Arcia was vulnerable on a couple of questionable hard slides by Machado in Game 3 of this year’s NLCS and Aguilar had his back leg clipped by Machado while he ‘ran out’ a groundout in the 10th inning of Game 4.

The contact on the play was avoidable, looked premeditated and was exacerbated by the fact that Machado wasn’t exactly busting down the line.

Benches emptied and after the dust settled, there was plenty to talk about. When Brewers manager Craig Counsell was asked whether Machado was venturing outside the realm of hard, aggressive play he responded, “I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.” (Machado has himself admitted that sometimes he dogs it; very peculiar for a player to say about himself in general but particularly in a free-agent year).

Infielder Travis Shaw volunteered, “The play at first today is a pretty dirty play. It’s not a mistake. You don’t kick somebody like that on accident. You can say it wasn’t on purpose, this and that, but it’s a dirty play.”

And the normally taciturn Yelich wasn’t through with Machado. “He’s a player that has a history of those types of incidents,” he said. “One time is an accident. Repeated over and over and over again, you’re just a dirty player. That’s what it is. I have a lot of respect for him as a player, but you can’t respect someone who plays the game like that. Run through the bag like you’ve been doing your whole life, like everybody else does.”

In the aftermath of Pedroia’s 2017 injury courtesy of Machado’s ill-advised slide, Rodriguez, Barnes and Sale all served him notice independently — either intentionally or not(?) — upholding one of baseball’s unwritten rules.

Ballplayers have memories like elephants. But this is the World Series. Everything is at stake. Some pundits are of the opinion that the Dodgers are underrated and that may be so. They are good. Strap yourself in.

Oh yes. Sox in 5.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in October 2018.]

Addendum: Price and Betts are now Dodgers, joining Kelly; Cora and the Red Sox have ‘parted ways’; Porcello is a Met; Kimbrel is with the Cubs; Pedroia has never been the same and is running out of time; and Manny is still Manny.

Oh yes. The Dodgers are the favorites to win the 2020 World Series.

It would be their first WS Championship since 1988.

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