Locked in a tight divisional race with the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles will soon be without their best player, and one of the most valuable players in the game, as suspensions loom for shortstop Manny Machado and Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura following a brawl between the two in Tuesday night’s 9–1 Orioles win at Camden Yards.
Ventura and Machado both have a history of getting into on-field dust-ups, but there was no known conflict between the two prior to Machado’s second at-bat of the game against Ventura. In the bottom of the first inning, Ventura worked away from Machado, falling behind 3–1, at which point Machado dropped the bat-head on a low two-seamer that tailed inside, hitting it down the leftfield line for an RBI double that started the scoring in what would be a four-run inning for Baltimore. When Machado’s turn in the order came back around in the second, Ventura fired in two more two-seamers that tailed in to Machado at 98 miles per hour, the first starting over the plate then tailing up and in. The second was belt-high, but further inside, forcing Machado to jump backward. That second pitch got Machado’s attention, drawing a cold stare from the Orioles shortstop. After Machado hit Ventura’s next pitch, a 97 mph two-seamer over the plate, into a stiff wind blowing in from leftfield, he called out to the pitcher while jogging down the line, getting Ventura’s attention then issuing him a warning in Spanish.
That at-bat set up what came in the fifth. With one out, the bases empty, and the Orioles now up 5–1, Ventura’s first pitch in Machado’s third plate appearance was a 99 mph fastball that hit Machado in the small of the back. Machado immediately discarded his bat and helmet and, with a slight limp, charged the mound, where Ventura, who had similarly tossed aside his glove and cap, was waiting for him. Both players threw one round-house right, Ventura missing badly, Machado being partially blocked by Ventura’s left arm, after which Machado put Ventura in a headlock and the two fell to the ground as the benches rapidly emptied on top of them.
The fighting was limited to those two combatants, however. Despite the speed with which the players and coaches flooded the field, the intent of all appeared to be to break things up. When the dust cleared, only Machado and Ventura had been ejected and no apparent injuries had been suffered. However, suspensions are clearly coming for both Machado and Ventura, and in that the Orioles will have gotten the worst of this affair, losing a far more valuable player in a much tighter divisional race.
Baltimore entered Tuesday’s action with a mere half-game lead on the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, while Machado entered the day ranked fourth in the American League in Baseball-Reference.com’s wins above replacement, to which he added an RBI double, a run scored, and an excellent defensive play in Tuesday night’s game. Ventura, by comparison, entered Tuesday night’s start with a 4.82 ERA (89 ERA+), which rendered him a replacement-level player on the season according to bWAR, and he had failed to make consecutive quality starts all season, a fact confirmed by his poor performance on Tuesday night. Whatever it is the Royals need to close their 2 1/2 game deficit to Cleveland in the AL Central, Ventura has not been providing it.
Hitting Machado didn’t help, either, as Chien-Ming Wang, forced into the uncomfortable position of warming up on the game mound, gave up home runs to the first two men he faced, Mark Trumbo, who added a sixth run to Ventura’s line in the process, and Chris Davis.
Ventura was suspended for seven games last April after being ejected from consecutive starts, the first for hitting then-Athletic Brett Lawrie with a 99 mph pitch, the second for inciting a brawl with the Chicago White Sox by shouting at White Sox centerfielder Adam Eaton after Eaton hit a comebacker. In his start prior to those two, Ventura had also attempted to pick a fight with Mike Trout. His suspension was thus a reaction to his accumulated bad behavior.
GALLERY: Notorious Basebrawls
Marichal Brandishes Bat — Aug. 22, 1965
The Giants and the Dodgers were bitter rivals engaged in a pennant race when Juan Marichal came up to bat against Sandy Koufax. When Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro threw a ball back to Koufax that nicked Marichal's ear, the San Francisco ace struck the catcher with his bat, setting off a melee and opening a two-inch gash on Roseboro's head. Marichal was suspended nine days and fined $1,750.
Rose and Harrelson — Oct. 8, 1973
The Mets were routing the Reds 9-2 in Game 3 of the NLCS when Pete Rose slid hard into Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson at second base to try to break up a double play. Rose was upset about comments Harrelson had made in the press and shoved Harrelson, who swung his elbow. Fists started flying as both benches emptied. Pedro Borbon of the Reds and Buzz Capra of the Mets also went mano a mano, with Borbon ending up with the wrong cap — a Mets cap — on his head. When he realized what he had done, he bit a chunk out of it.
Brawl In The Bronx — May 20, 1976
When Lou Piniella collided with Carlton Fisk at home plate in an unsuccessful attempt to score, it set off a fracas that had its roots in a 1973 encounter between Fisk and Thurman Munson. Fisk tackled Piniella, while the Red Sox Bill Lee (right), who was backing up home plate, was punched by the Yankees' Mickey Rivers and then thrown to the ground by Graig Nettles, who apparently intended to keep him from joining the fray. Once Lee regained his feet, he went to throw a punch at Nettles, and when he realized he couldn't lift his left (throwing) arm, he continued jawing and was subsequently decked with a right hook that gave him a black eye.
Chaos at Camden Yards — June 6, 1993
By the time the Orioles' Mike Mussina hit Bill Hasselman in the shoulder with a high fastball in the seventh inning, tempers in this game were already running hot. Once plunked, Hasselman charged Mussina, and amid the ensuing 20-minute scuffle, Bosio re-fractured his left collarbone, an injury from which he had just returned after missing a month. He missed another 19 days and served a five-game suspension upon returning, while six other players drew suspensions of three to five games as well. Hasselman received only a three-gamer, but Mussina wasn't disciplined even though Piniella claimed that an Oriole told him that the plunking had been ordered.
The Ryan Express — Aug. 4, 1993
Robin Ventura had a decent career, but most people will remember him for getting a bunch of noogies from Nolan Ryan, who, at 46, was 20 years his elder. Ventura was ejected from the game and Ryan stayed in. The Rangers won 5-2.
Benitez Blows Up — May 19, 1998
After giving up an eighth-inning, three-run home run to Bernie Williams, O's reliever Armando Benitez drilled Tino Martinez in the back with a pitch, setting off a 10-minute brawl that included a wild sucker punch on Benitez by the Yanks' Darryl Stawberry. ''It was the worst brawl I've seen in 25 years,'' George Steinbrenner said. The Yankees ended up trading for Benitez in 2003.
Back For More — April 22, 2000
One brawl wasn't enough for the Tigers and White Sox, who fought in the seventh and ninth innings of a 14-6 Chicago victory. Final tally: five hit by pitches and 11 ejections. "Bottom line is, we won the game and we killed them," Chicago pitcher Jim Parque said. "I hope they have enough guys so we can beat them again."
Prelude to a Near No-No — Aug. 28, 2000
Pedro Martinez's bid for a no-hitter began with a brawl. Martinez began the game by hitting the leadoff hitter, Devil Rays outfielder Gerald Williams, who charged the mound and floored Martinez with a punch. Umpires ejected Williams but allowed Martinez to remain in the game. He ended up allowing a single in the ninth inning that broke up his no-hit bid.
Farnsworth's Slam — June 19, 2003
Reds starter Paul Wilson was trying to bunt when Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth threw a fastball high and tight. Wilson said something to Farnsworth, who charged toward home plate, flipped off his glove and slammed Wilson to the ground before landing a punch to the face. A pileup quickly ensued on top of the two pitchers.
Down Goes Zimmer — Oct. 11, 2003
During a Pedro Martinez-Roger Clemens showdown in Game 3 of the ALCS, Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, 73, lunged toward the Red Sox right hander and ending up with a faceful of Fenway sod. Later in the game New York reliever Jeff Nelson and right fielder Karim Garcia got into a fight with a Fenway Park groundskeeper after he cheered for Boston in the Yankees' bullpen.
In Your Face — July 24, 2004
Red Sox captain Jason Varitek didn't appreciate Alex Rodriguez's staring down Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo after getting hit by a pitch. Varitek and A-Rod squared off, with Varitek shoving the Yankees star in the face. Both dugouts and bullpens emptied, and both players were ejected. The inspired Red Sox rallied to win the game on Bill Mueller's ninth-inning homer off Mariano Rivera.
The Sucker Punch — May 20, 2006
Cubs catcher Michael Barrett didn't take too kindly to being run over at the plate by his counterpart, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. After Pierzynski slapped home plate and got up, Barrett grabbed him and puched him in the jaw. "He grabbed me and said, 'I didn't have the ball' and then he punched me," Pierzynski said. "I was trying to pick up my helmet."
Shields Up — June 5, 2008
The ongoing feud between the Rays and Red Sox continued at Fenway Park when Tampa Bay's James Shields hit Boston's Coco Crisp in retaliation for Crisp's rough slide into a Tampa Bay player the previous night. Crisp charged the mound, and both players threw roundhouse punches that failed to do any damage. A bench-clearing brawl, resulting in three ejections, followed.
Greinke Breaks Collarbone — April 11, 2013
This exhibit of vigilante justice was on display in San Diego, when a fastball from the Dodgers' Zack Greinke veered inside and hit the Padres' Carlos Quentin on the left arm. A moment later, Quentin charged the mound, and soon both benches emptied in a brawl. Greinke suffered a broken collarbone and was out over a month. After the game, Matt Kemp confronted Quentin in a tunnel under the stadium (inset) before Padres pitcher Clayton Richard separated them.
Mattingly Joins the Fray — June 11, 2013
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks were involved in a heated brawl that involved players and coaches, including Don Mattingly taking down Alan Trammell. There were six ejections, stemming from a night in which Arizona's Ian Kennedy hit rookie Yasiel Puig in the face with a pitch and hit starter Zack Greinke with another high pitch.
Non-Homer Celebration Incites Brawl — April 20, 2014
Carlos Gomez's penchant for admiring his home runs has been known to rub opponents the wrong way. The Pirates took umbrage at his reaction to a ball that the Brewers centerfielder thought he had hit out, but did not, and his response triggered a bench-clearing brawl. Gomez threw punches at Pittsburgh's Travis Snider, then sparred with Russell Martin; both Pirates had come off the bench to join the scrum. Gomez broke away and then Snider pushed him down before being tackled by Rickie Weeks and punched by Martin Maldonado. After a delay of several minutes, Gomez, Snider and Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron were all ejected, while Cole remained in the game.
Not Again Royals — April 23, 2015
Tempers flared when Yordano Ventura fielded a ground ball from Adam Eaton in the bottom of the seventh inning and appeared to mouth profanities at him as Eaton jogged down the first base line. Later on in the ensuing scrum, Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Samardzija fought. Both players were ejected, as were Ventura, the Royals' Edinson Volquez and White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, who was repeatedly restrained by both Royals staff members and his own teammates. The A's and Royals were involved in a benches-clearing altercation of their own on April 17 after Oakland's Brett Lawrie slid hard into Royals second baseman Alcides Escobar, which led to several plunkings and two more bench-clearings in the final two games of the weekend series.
Bautista Bat Flip Retaliation? — May 15, 2016
Sunday afternoon was apparently alright for fighting in Texas, as the Rangers and Blue Jays got into a benches-clearing brawl in the eighth inning of their series finale, a 7–6 win for the Rangers. The donnybrook, triggered by a hard, overaggressive slide into second base by Jose Bautista, was a true scrap, featuring Texas second baseman Rougned Odor landing a solid right cross on Bautista’s face and ejections galore—and the promise of some serious suspensions in the aftermath. But the roots of Sunday’s dustup likely go back to last October, when Bautista bat flipped his way into the Rangers’ ire.
After the White Sox incident, I wrote that Ventura needed to learn that “there’s a difference between being intense and being confrontational, and Ventura has crossed the line in three of his four starts this year.” He made it through the remainder of that season and the first third of this one without further incident. However, Tuesday night’s kerfuffle remains part of a pattern of behavior that has to be troubling for Major League Baseball, particularly given that it is coming from a player who effectively takes the mound in possession of a deadly weapon in the form of a fastball that can hit triple-digits. Ventura’s suspension in this case should be longer than his last. There is precedent for that. Ian Kennedy was suspended for 10 games for throwing at Zack Greinke in 2013. That stands as the longest suspension for an on-field incident in the last decade.
Machado isn’t just an innocent victim here, however. When the notoriously hot-headed Lawrie was hit by a 99 mph Ventura pitch last year, he dropped his bat and headed to first without so much as looking at Ventura. Machado could have done the same. Instead he charged the mound with the clear intent to hurt Ventura. This is not an isolated incident for Machado either. Machado first displayed his tendency to react badly to perceived slights in a series at home against the A’s in June 2014. In the Friday night game of that series, he took offense to what he perceived as an unnecessarily hard tag from A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson, getting in the clearly bewildered Donaldson’s face after the play and prompting the benches to empty. Two days later, he reacted to a low and inside pitch from A’s lefty Fernando Abad, by attempting to throw his bat at Abad via a delayed swing, again causing the benches to empty. Machado was suspended for five games for the latter incident, a suspension that likely would have been longer had Machado not missed by so much.
Machado did manage to keep his wits about him when drilled in the shoulder by a 93 mph Jonathan Papelbon fastball last September, yelling at the pitcher, but not charging him. Perhaps even in a fit of pique, Machado was able to discern the difference between the burly 6’5” Papelbon and the lanky 6’0” Ventura. Either way, a suspension for Machado is clearly in order, as well, though that seems unlikely to be more than another five games.
Still, Machado is so important to the Orioles that losing him even for that brief span could significantly impact their season. Not only is he one of the best hitters in the majors, ranking seventh with a 157 OPS+ entering Tuesday’s game, but he’s also one of the game’s best fielders and has been filling in at shortstop for the injured J.J. Hardy for the last month. Hardy, out with a fractured left foot, isn’t expected back until the end of the month, if then. Losing Machado would thus leave the left side of the Baltimore infield completely in the hands of replacement-level bench players such as Paul Janish, who replaced Machado after his ejection in Tuesday night’s game, and Ryan Flaherty, who started the game at third base. Flaherty did homer off Ventura Tuesday night, but even with that, the two have hit a combined .198/.299/.257 in 117 major league plate appearances this season.
If the Orioles fall a game or two shy of the Red Sox for the division title or, worse, a game or two shy of a wild-card berth come October, Machado’s inability to take the high road against Ventura could well have made the difference. Just because Ventura was the aggressor in this situation doesn’t excuse Machado from taking the bait and lowering himself to Ventura’s level. Ventura’s issues go beyond Tuesday night’s incident, and the Royals are clearly growing frustrated with his behavior—just watch Salvador Perez’s frustrated reactions in the various video clips above—as well as his disappointing performance on the mound. Machado, however, is a nearly perfect player, and though he won’t turn 24 until next month, he needs to realize that his constant presence on the field is more important than any perceived slight. He’s good enough to let his outstanding play serve as his retaliation. Here’s hoping he does just that going forward.