Finding the fault in Red Sox-Orioles weekend battles

Who is wrong in the unnecessary feud between the Red Sox and Orioles over Manny Machado’s slide into Dustin Pedroia?

Put it this way — the principals are least at fault.

I know many are disgusted with baseball’s unwritten rules, the antiquated system of retaliatory justice that ensues when one player injures another, even inadvertently. Most reasonable people would agree that pitchers throwing at hitters is stupid and dangerous, but a significant portion of players still believe that they should police themselves.

Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia reacts after a collision with Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado in the eighth inning on Friday.  Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Fine.

If you’re going to apply the unwritten rules, then at least execute them properly. If a Sox pitcher had hit Machado in a meaty part of his body on Saturday – one day after he unintentionally injured Pedroia with a slide into second base, not two – Machado almost certainly would have accepted his fate. Message sent. Incident over. 

But that’s not what happened, is it?

Sox right-hander Matt Barnes threw in the direction of Machado’s head, missing his helmet but hitting his bat in what turned out to be the oddest of foul balls. Pedroia yelled to Machado from the dugout that he had nothing to do with Barnes’ misdeed, texted Machado afterward and issued a public apology as well, telling reporters, “It’s definitely a mishandled situation.”

Barnes, too, apologized, saying Machado had every right to be mad, but denied intent. Such denials always ring hollow – Barnes was ejected and should be suspended. Meanwhile, injured Orioles closer Zach Britton took a shot at Pedroia, telling Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com, “If he can’t control his own teammates, then there’s a bigger issue over there.”

Uh, no.

As a player on another team told me, “It’s not Pedroia’s responsibility to control everyone on that team. They’re grown adults. And it probably came from the coaching staff anyway.” 

Specifically, Red Sox manager John Farrell and his staff, unless Barnes acted completely on his own (unlikely), or simply missed badly with his location (also unlikely).

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell comes out of the dugout to speak with umpire Andy Fletcher after pitcher Matt Barnes was ejected from the game for throwing at Manny Machado. Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Farrell ran onto the field to protest the call of a dead ball, contending it was in fair territory. Let me get this straight: Farrell wanted the Red Sox rewarded after pulling such an unprofessional stunt? Not a good look.

Dustin Pedroia tries to get up  after the collision with Manny Machado. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Think back to the initial act, the slide by Machado on Friday.

Was it late? Yes, but with the understanding that players cannot be expected to time every split-second action properly.

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Did Machado mean to harm Pedroia? In the opinion of Pedroia and virtually everyone else, no.

Heck, Machado might have been called safe if he had stayed on the bag rather than gone past it while trying to brace Pedroia’s fall. Instead, he showed instant empathy and reacted properly again on Sunday after Barnes threw at him, maintaining his cool. Good for Machado, who does not turn 25 until July 6. A hothead at times in the past, it appears that he is maturing.

Pedroia, too, tried to rise above the fray, telling reporters on Sunday, “There was zero intention of him trying to hurt me. He just made a bad slide. He did hurt me. It’s baseball, man. I’m not mad at him. I love Manny Machado. I love playing against him. I love watching him.”

If Pedroia made any misstep, it was perhaps with his explanation to Machado from the Sox dugout, which was captured by a television cameraman and shown on countless replays.

Pedroia — who initiated the conversation, which effectively portrayed Barnes as the culprit — could have better protected his teammate by conveying his sentiments to Machado privately afterward.

Then again, it was heat of the moment, and Pedroia was just as strong in his comments to reporters afterward. He did not single out Barnes or anyone else by name, but his obvious disapproval should serve as a deterrent to such ill-conceived behavior in the future.

Perhaps someone should just codify the unwritten rules once and for all, and explain how to carry them out properly.