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In Case Of Manny Machado, Red Sox Should Have Let Sleeping Dog Lie

May 15, 2017
I  remember the first time I saw the movie "Chinatown" like it was yesterday. There are a lot of life lessons in Roman Polanski's classic starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. But one line I have always remembered was when a woman who thinks her husband has been cheating on her wants to hire Nicholson's character, detective J.J. Gittes. Gittes looks straight at her and says, "Have you ever heard the expression, ‘Let sleeping dogs lie?'"

It was the first time I had heard that line uttered, so after the movie I looked it up (how did we look things like that up before Google?), and found its origin dated back to the 13th century, and it quite literally meant not to wake fiercely trained watchdogs because nothing but trouble would follow.

That line kept coming back to me throughout of all the drama during the early-season, back-and-forth with the Boston Red Sox, which began when Orioles third baseman Manny Machado injured Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a slide into second base.

At the time Machado was thrown at April 23, supposedly for that slide, he was barely batting above the .200 Mendoza line. He did have three home runs and nine RBIs, but it's more than fair to say Boston right-hander Matt Barnes throwing a 95 mph fastball in the vicinity of Machado's head was as close to a sleeping dog as you could get.

Since the wakeup call the Red Sox delivered on that late April afternoon, Machado has batted .254 and with five home runs and 12 RBIs entering play May 9. What has been most impressive about Machado's maturation during these tests is that after Barnes went head-hunting, Machado got back in the box and hit a booming double -- clearly his hardest-hit ball at that point in the season.

Some nine days later, on May 2, when Boston left-hander Chris Sale tried to make Machado pay for Dylan Bundy hitting star Boston right fielder Mookie Betts the night before, Machado again let his bat do the talking by hitting a monstrous home run out of Fenway Park. 

Aside from an expletive-filled postgame interview after the game, in which Sale took dead aim at him, Machado's only talking on the field was done by his bat.

Contrast that to how Machado handled previous attempts at payback: throwing his bat toward third base after he felt Donaldson had tagged him too hard in the base paths in 2014, and an episode last June in which he charged the mound and punched late Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura after Ventura went high and tight with a 98 mph fastball. While Ventura got hit with a nine-game suspension, Machado's four-game suspension cost the Orioles four games without their star third baseman, while Ventura's nine-gamer probably really only cost him one start.

I know it could be viewed as comparing "apples to oranges," but I'd like to see Machado do to the Red Sox (the O's still have 10 games remaining vs. Boston) what a disrespected Daniel Murphy did all of 2016 to his former team, the New York Mets, who didn't want to re-sign him to a long-term contract.

Murphy had a monster 2016 season, recording a .347 batting average, .390 OBP and .595 slugging percentage while racking up 104 RBIs, 47 doubles and 25 home runs. But he saved his best for his former team. In the 19 games against the Mets, all he did was get at least a hit each game, while batting .413 with a .444 OBP and .773 slugging percentage, while hitting seven home runs and knocking in 21 runs. I am not entirely sure, but if Mets general manager Sandy Alderson would have known how stiff the retribution would be, he might not have let Murphy get away.

By not paying attention to that old cliché "let sleeping dogs lie," the Red Sox may have just turned Machado into that sort of adversary.

Issue 233: May 2017