TORONTO – It’s become a popular question this year, whether Orioles third baseman Manny Machado belongs in the same class as the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper.
That question was presented on MLB Network before Friday’s game in Toronto, and at the time, a few Orioles players -- Machado among them -- were watching in the visiting clubhouse of the Rogers Centre.
“Forget that,” reliever Tommy Hunter said jokingly as he turned to Machado. “I’m taking either one of the other two guys.”
If there is a gap, Machado continues to close it -- and he's doing it with fine all-around performances on the road, the latest one coming in Friday’s 10-6 win over the Blue Jays.
Machado became the second player ever under the age of 21 to compile five straight road games with three or more hits and the first since 1907. The player that set that mark? Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.
When he was told about the record, Machado's eyes widened in surprise. “Wow,” Machado said. “You’re talking about Ty Cobb there. It’s Ty Cobb. That’s all you can say.”
He also set a franchise record with five straight road games with three or more hits, breaking the previous record of four games shared by three Orioles greats -- Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray and Don Buford.
It’s difficult for any player make records like that secondary, but Machado’s defense on Friday might have bettered his bat.
Machado said he spent extra time taking ground balls off the Rogers Centre AstroTurf to get used to the unpredictable hops. And on Friday night’s he made several highlight-worthy plays on the turf.
“It’s totally different than real grass,” Machado said. “Making the plays, it’s just going with your instincts and just making the outs basically.”
Easier said than done. Machado also made an over-the-shoulder catch in foul ground down the right-field line to end the fourth inning. And with runners on first and second and no outs in the fifth, Machado made a tremendous 5-3 double play, perfectly timing scooping the ball, stepping on the bag and throwing to first to help get starter Chris Tillman out of the inning.
“That play Manny made tonight, it was special,” Tillman said. “He’s a special kid. He’s got great hands and he’s got the feet and smarts to be able to put it to use. I think that’s the most impressive part about him. He knows what he’s going to do right when the ball is hit, before its hit really.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter is careful with his praise of Machado, often saying he will let the fans and media revere Machado as they see fit. But after Friday’s game, Showalter couldn’t help himself.
“Talent plays,” Showalter said. “You talk about feeling comfortable at the plate. The same thing goes for third base. He’s settled in there real nice. He’s been a difference maker for us. He makes a lot of plays that more third baseman doesn’t sniff.”