From the first day of 2012 season, whenever the Orioles needed to make a roster move for a position player -- they made 178 roster moves last season -- manager Buck Showalter would ask his bench coach, John Russell, who the Orioles should recall. The laconic Russell would shrug his shoulders, then say one name, always the same name: Machado.
It didn't matter that Manny Machado was only 19 years old, and hadn't played above Double-A, the answer was always the same: Machado. Sometime in July 2012, after Bryce Harper, who was from Machado's 2010 draft class, was tearing things up in Washington, and Mike Trout, 20, was crushing it with the Angels, Machado quietly wondered why he wasn't being promoted faster, why he wasn't at least playing at Triple-A. Showalter heard the whispers, he read the reports, and on Aug. 9, Machado was brought to Baltimore.
"He is special," Showalter said. "He is going to have special power once he really matures."
The Orioles saw that special player when they made him their No. 1 pick in 2010. He looked like a young Alex Rodriguez -- a big, strong, power-hitting shortstop from Miami, he wore No. 13 in honor of A-Rod, his baseball hero. But when the Orioles were struggling in early August, and they essentially had no third baseman, Machado was recalled from Double-A to play third. In his first game, he singled and tripled in four at-bats. In his second game, he hit two home runs to become the youngest player in history -- 20 years, 35 days -- to record a multi-home run game in his first or second major league game. And he became the first player ever to record two homers and a triple in his first two games.
"Unbelievable," said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. "To be 20 years old, and do what he's done, is amazing."
Machado played in 51 games and slugged .445 in 191 at-bats as the Orioles went 33-18 from Aug. 9 on to make the playoffs, and Machado was right in the middle of all of it. That .445 slugging percentage was the fourth-highest by a third baseman in his age-19 season in the live-ball era (1920-on) behind only Jimmie Foxx, Bob Horner and Eddie Matthews.
But even more impressive than the power was the way Machado played third base. Many shortstops have a difficult time moving to third at any age, but he handled it beautifully. He solidified the position defensively, and on Sept. 12 against the Rays, he made one of the plays of the year. In a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning, with speedy pinch runner Rich Thompson on second base, Machado bare-handed a slow roller by Evan Longoria. Machado had the presence of mind to hold the ball -- if he had thrown it, Thompson would have scored -- fake the throw to first, then wheel immediately and throw to alert shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was covering third. Thompson was caught off the bag and tagged out.
"That's the first time I've ever made that play," Machado said after the game.
Hardy said, "It's not just the physical skills he has, which are incredible, it's his instincts for the game that are so impressive. Twenty-year olds usually don't make a play like that."
That's why when John Russell was asked, he always said: Machado.