BALTIMORE -- If you want to know how the Baltimore Orioles are going to respond to Tuesday’s bean brawl with the Kansas City Royals and the all but certain suspension of Manny Machado, look no further than what happened right after the smoke cleared.
In the first at-bat after Machado and Royals starter Yordano Ventura -- who plunked the O’s slugger in the back with a 99 mph heater -- were tossed, Baltimore cleanup hitter Mark Trumbo crushed a 3-1 sinker from Royals reliever Chien-Ming Wang over the center-field fence. On the very next pitch, Chris Davis sent another one out to center in the Orioles' 9-1 win.
It was the kind of immediately redemptive and completely implausible moment that happens only in underdog sports movies. You know, the ones that are invariably “inspired by real events” and are required by law to star either Kevin Costner or Dennis Quaid.
As if that weren’t enough, Adam Jones led off the following inning by parking one over the wall in left-center. Seriously?
It’s not like long balls are new to these 2016 Orioles. They’ve hit 18 bombs in their past six games and have 87 on the season, most in the majors. But those last three dingers -- especially the one hit by Davis, who had only one in his previous 73 plate appearances -- seemed to send a message to the Royals, not to mention the rest of league. It was something along the lines of: You done messed with the wrong team.
There’s no doubt that Machado will be suspended. There’s no doubt that he deserves to be suspended. There’s also no doubt that, on paper, the Orioles can ill afford to lose him. After all, they’re already missing Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy, All-Star setup man Darren O’Day, starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and highly capable backup catcher Caleb Joseph. Without Machado -- an MVP candidate even before he slid to short in place of Hardy -- the Orioles are likely looking at a left side of the infield that features Paul Janish and Ryan Flaherty. Good glove men both, but a far cry from Machado and Hardy on both sides of the ball. Surely, the Orioles won’t be able to stay afloat in the AL East.
Or will they? That’s the weird thing about Buck Showalter’s Birds. The more everyone counts them out, the more they count themselves in. Take 2014, for example, when the Orioles lost Machado and Matt Wieters to injury and Davis to suspension. Playing without all three of them down the stretch and throughout the playoffs, the team still won 96 games and the AL East title and advanced to the American League Championship Series.
Last season, when people expected them to build off their 2014 success, the Orioles crumbled. This season, with everyone again forecasting failure, they have thrived. They’ll be the first ones to tell you, as many in the clubhouse did during spring training and early in the season, that they prefer to be underdogs. That role suits them better. The whole chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. As cliché as it sounds, "us against the world" seems to work wonders for these Birds.
Don’t believe it? Just listen to what Machado’s teammates had to say after the game.
“That's what you want to see,” Trumbo said of the O’s offensive post-plunk outburst. “There's a lot of emotions going on, and there's a lot of things that can happen. Hopefully you can use it to your advantage -- not the other way around. I think everyone was pretty fired up after that.”
That includes the fans. A boisterous crowd of 28,110 -- nearly double Monday’s gathering -- chanted “Man-ny, Man-ny, Man-ny” throughout the bench-clearing brawl and was amped up for the rest of the night, right up until the very end, when they booed on their way out as the P.A. announcer called Ventura’s name and credited him with the loss.
“It was almost deafening,” Trumbo said of the crowd noise. “They were going nuts. It's a really exciting thing. It's not something you see all the time. But you know what? It happens. I'm sure everyone takes notice.”
Jones sure did.
“I had a great view,” he said. “I’m glad for Manny for defending himself. Screw it -- defend yourself. If somebody’s trying to hurt you maliciously, you go out there and you defend yourself.”
Machado’s teammates did their part as well -- not just when the benches cleared, but also after they filled back up and play resumed.
“I didn’t have much doubt with how they’d respond,” Showalter said of his team’s post-interruption eruption. “I thought we were already having a good game, considering the type of stuff we were facing. I’m very proud of how our guys handle adversity. We’ve been on both sides of it. I think sometimes you show certain things even more when you have some things not go your way. Our guys have been good at that.”
In other words, the Royals might have woken a sleeping giant. Actually, check that. The first-place Orioles, who won for the sixth time in seven games on Tuesday, were already awake. Now, thanks to Ventura, they’re wide awake.
It’s impossible to know right now, but a couple months down the road, we might look back on June 7 as the day the Orioles’ season turned -- for the better.