MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Machado rains HRs with friend A-Rod on mind

Machado rains HRs with friend A-Rod on mind

CHICAGO -- Manny Machado was never a secret. Guys who are physical specimens and have great baseball skills will be noticed early in their high school careers, if not even earlier. But it wasn't a scout who was among the first to sell the Yankees about Machado's potential. It was Alex Rodriguez.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recalled on Sunday that an investment in the teenage Machado was a sign that A-Rod could spot talent and had a willingness to help talented players develop.

Machado was 16 when he met Rodriguez through mutual friends. He's 24 now, and was among those watching Rodriguez's news conference -- in which Rodriguez announced that he will be unconditionally released from his player contract and serve as a special advisor and instructor for the Yanks -- before the Orioles' 10-2 win over the White Sox.

Machado then went out and became the first player to homer in the first three innings of a game since White Sox outfielder Carl Reynolds did it off Hall of Famer Red Ruffing and Ken Holloway at Yankee Stadium in 1930. But his mind was never far from thoughts of Rodriguez, who will play one final game in New York on Friday.

"That was for him," Machado said of his three-homer, seven-RBI day. "That was all for him."

O's manager Buck Showalter watched Rodriguez's news conference with Machado after they arrived at U.S. Cellular Field.

"I'm not going to get too deep, but he was watching the press conference," Showalter said after the victory. "I'm sure he had some emotions, and he responded."

Every era in baseball is different, filled with its own issues and tendencies. But one of the truths that always sustains the game is that when one great player exits, another one arrives -- sometimes two or three other ones, at that.

Look no farther than Rodriguez and Machado to see that dynamic in action. Then, if you want, take another step into the past and connect the dots between Rodriguez and his idol, Cal Ripken Jr.

Ripken played his first game for the Orioles in 1981, when he was 20. Rodriguez debuted with the Mariners in '94, when he was 18. Machado was 19 when he joined the O's in 2012. If Machado plays until he's 40, as the other two did, he won't walk away until '33.

That's a 52-year timeline for the succession of Ripken to Rodriguez to Machado. Pretty wonderful, huh?

Johnny Oates introduced Ripken to a 17-year-old Rodriguez during a Spring Training game in Fort Lauderdale in 1993, the year Rodriguez would be the first overall pick in the Draft. The relationship between Machado and Rodriguez goes much deeper, with Rodriguez embracing the chance to spend time with Machado.

It's fair to say Machado was all eyes and ears.

"We just kind of got to know each other a little bit," Machado said. "I worked out with him quite a bit in the offseason. We worked [on other things] a little bit. Those are things I will keep personal, but he's been a mentor to me. He's helped me out a lot. He's helped me out by teaching me the ropes of how to be in the big leagues, how to be a big leaguer. Know what to do, what to not do; know what to eat, what to not eat. He's been a true mentor, I guess you can say."

For three of the past four seasons, their teams have battled it out in the American League East. When Rodriguez was suspended for the 2014 season, Machado was fighting his own battles, limited to 82 games by a pair of knee injuries and a five-game suspension for throwing his bat during a contentious series with the Athletics.

Machado, a terrific fielder at third base after shifting from shortstop in Double-A, hit 35 home runs last season and has been even better this year. He's hitting .307 with 25 homers, 67 RBIs and a career-high .923 OPS.

And in his personal tribute to A-Rod, Machado made it rain home runs against the White Sox. He jumped on the first pitch he saw from James Shields, driving the 90-mph sinker onto the green roof of a structure beyond the center-field fence. The Orioles had a 2-0 lead.

With two men on in the second, Machado pulled an 86-mph cutter from Shields off the back wall of the White Sox bullpen. The O's had a 6-0 lead.

In the third, Machado hit an 0-2 slider from Matt Albers into the bleachers in left-center with Adam Jones on base, making the Orioles' lead 10-0.

Showalter was impressed. He certainly wasn't shocked.

"I just try not to get in his way," Showalter said, laughing.

This was a nice weekend for the O's, who took two of three from the White Sox to improve their record to 12-11 since the All-Star break. They're in a three-team battle in the AL East and for now are just ahead of the Blue Jays and the Red Sox.

Machado would have loved to have made it just a bit better by becoming only the 17th player to homer four times in a game. He had three chances after the drive off Albers, but Tommy Kahnle, Carson Fulmer and Michael Ynoa all got him out.

"I was trying," Machado said. "I'm not going to lie. But the pitchers came up there and they made three good pitches that I wasn't able to hit out. I was trying real hard."

As great as the day was for Machado, he was left dealing with sadness over the end of his friend's career.

"It's tough," Machado said about Rodriguez. "It's a tough situation. I know as a personal friend, he sleeps, bleeds, eats baseball. For him to make that decision, I know wasn't easy."

Life goes on.

"I'm always going to be there for him," Machado said. "He's had a great career. He's going out on top, like he always has. It's just a little disappointing to see he's not going to be on the same field any more."

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.