ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In what had already been a disastrous month of spirit-plunging baseball, the Orioles suffered a blow in the seventh inning of Monday’s 5-4 loss that not only rocked the end of this season but potentially gut-punched the 2014 Orioles.
With one out in the top of the seventh, 21-year-old, All-Star third baseman Manny Machado crumpled to the ground after awkwardly hitting the first base bag while beating out an infield single.
Writhing in pain as the Tropicana Field crowd grew eerily silent, Machado slammed his helmet to the ground as the club’s athletic trainers and manager Buck Showalter rushed to his side. Machado was eventually wheeled out on a stretcher and had an X-ray taken at the stadium before boarding the team plane for Baltimore, where he will have a MRI on his left knee Tuesday morning.
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The Orioles will not make an official announcement until they have results of the MRI. He’s expected, at the least, to miss the final six games of the season.
“It's potentially an injury that, you would think it would [end his season], just from the early reports,” Showalter said. “But let's get everything in. But it certainly doesn't look very promising right now.”
Showalter said everything is too preliminary to process.
“They took an X-ray and somehow they couldn't develop the pictures. Had a little glitch there,” Showalter said. “I'm sure we won't get a full diagnosis until we get the MRI back in Baltimore tomorrow morning. I think Dr. [John] Wilckens is already setting it up at one of the best hospitals in the country, so we'll let them weigh in.”
Orioles veteran Brian Roberts, who dealt with a gruesome, season-ending elbow injury in September 2005 as his career was taking off, said this about Machado: “My heart hurts for him.”
“That was kind of, I guess, the beginning of my career in a lot of ways that year. And to have it end darn near pretty close to the same time with a pretty dramatic injury — I just hurt for him,” Roberts said. “You don’t want to see it happen to anybody but when you see what kind of special player he is and special kid he is. But the great part is he is 21 years old. You’ve got to find a bright spot in it as best you can.”
Roberts, who was the designated hitter , said he went into the clubhouse during the game and embraced the downtrodden Machado.
“I just gave him a hug and said, you know, there’s just not a whole lot to say to somebody at that point except that we are here with you and we are going to do everything to support him,” Roberts said.
Machado’s wasn’t the Orioles only scary injury in Monday’s seventh. In the bottom of the inning, Wil Myers hit a blooper to right that second baseman Alexi Casilla dove for, catching the ball just as he collided with right fielder Nick Markakis. Casilla’s head smashed into Markakis’ thigh.
Casilla, who dropped the ball when he hit the ground, allowing a game-tying, two-run single, was motionless on the outfield turf as Markakis and center fielder Adam Jones waved for help.
“I’m not a doctor or anything, but when he was out there I could have sworn he was knocked out,” Markakis said. “It was just bang-bang. Me coming full speed. Him coming full speed. It was like trying to stop a train on a dime. It’s tough. I’m just glad he is OK. He got banged up a little bit but when it’s all said and done, if he’s OK, that’s all that really matters.”
Casilla stayed in the game until the end of the inning, when he was sent to a local hospital with concussion symptoms. He is expected to undergo a CT scan before it is determined when he can get back to Baltimore.
“They had to take him through a series of tests and decide what the grade of the concussion is,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said about Casilla. “And they’ll make a recommendation.”
When asked if the Orioles would add an infielder during the season’s final week from the minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla., Duquette said matter-of-factly: “We don’t have any infielders in Sarasota.”
The real concern is whether Machado’s injury could put his 2014 in jeopardy and potentially affect a career that seems to be among the brightest in all of baseball. For comparison’s sake, Orioles’ 31-year-old infielder Wilson Betemit tore a knee ligament in March, returned in late August and wasn’t the same. Machado is much younger, but a serious knee injury can be debilitating.
“Manny is a uniquely talented player and he's a fan favorite, so I know there's a lot of concern for Manny from Orioles fans and baseball fans,” Duquette said. “Let's wait and see what the MRI shows and then we can decide the next steps. The personal concern for Manny is that he'd enter a different stage of his career where you have to take some other steps.”
Several players throughout baseball, including the Los Angeles Angels young superstar Mike Trout, took to Twitter to send their thoughts to Machado: “Best wishes out to Manny today for that terrible injury. Get well soon man!”
“It’s horrible,” said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon after the game. “Baltimore has really ascended over the last couple of years and I really believe [Machado] has been the cornerstone, the keystone of that whole thing. I hate to see that. This is a young man, a tremendous talent. I don’t know him that well, but I think he has a great joy for the game so you hate to see that happen.”
Machado was hitting .283 with 14 homers, 71 RBIs and an American League-best 51 doubles while starting all 156 games this season. He’s started every Orioles contest since he was called up on Aug. 9, 2012 — a streak of 207 consecutive games.
Before Monday’s contest, Machado told The Baltimore Sun that he was exceptionally proud of his streak.
“That would be great. I’d love to play 162 games,” Machado said Monday afternoon. “That’s my goal and that’s what they put me out there to do, go out there every day and show the world I can play and I can grind it out. It’s a long season and to play 162 games in the major leagues at such a young age is a great accomplishment that a lot of people can’t say that they’ve done.”
A clubhouse that was already reeling from a five-game losing streak and the steady evaporation of postseason hopes was particularly somber on Monday evening.
“The losses and the injuries and being six days away [from season’s end] and feeling like we had a good chance coming into Tampa,” said Roberts, “And to walk out with this kind of feeling is tough for everybody I think.”