The Baby-Faced Assassin Is Finally Back In B-More’s Building

Damn Sports Illustrated jinx. It caused the end of Pete Rose’s National League record 44-game hitting streak in 1978, and after appearing on the cover of the famed publication, Nomar Garciapara wrecked his wrist in 2001, sending his career into a downward spiral. He did, however, eventually find a financial pick me up in marrying soccer legend Mia Hamm in 2003.  

They are just two of the many athletes who have suffered unfortunate fates after appearing on an SI cover.

The XFL (remember He Hate Me?) was featured on the cover, with the headline "Cheap Thrills: Will sleazy gimmicks and low-rent football work for the XFL?" The league's popularity plummeted after that point, and the XFL failed after its first season. In September 2008, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady flashed his mug on the cover of the NFL season preview issue. Brady tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee minutes into the season opening game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

In June 2010, phenom Stephen “Flash” Strasburg was featured and later that week earned his first MLB loss, and then was injured and put on the disabled list. On August 28, 2010 it was confirmed that Strasburg would need Tommy John surgery. He’s never been the same K-flaming, dominant pitcher.

We apologize to Manny Machado for making him the first future legend to fall victim to The Shadow League Jinx.

Last season – Machado's first full MLB campaign – the wonder kid from Miami, who was originally a shortstop and idolized A-Rod, had risen to the top of his profession as a third baseman, often mentioned in the Harper, Trout and Puig class.

Then, his killer 2013 season ended abruptly when he hit the first base bag awkwardly while running out a base hit in a game against the Rays. While it was initially feared that he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, MRIs showed that he had instead ruptured his medial patellofemoral ligament, which connects the kneecap to the femur.

The 21-year-old rising superstar underwent knee surgery in mid-October. It was the second time he suffered that particular injury. The first time was in the minors in 2011. And when the 2014 season opened, the young Don was nowhere near ready to help Baltimore grind and grit its way through a treacherous AL East.

The O’s have done a decent job in Machado’s absence and sit just two games behind the first–place Yankees with a 12-12 record. With Machado slowly getting back into the mix, Baltimore has survived the storm with more than 135 games left to play.

But with slugger Chris Davis hitting the DL with an oblique strain, and an offense that scores just 4.50 runs per game (just above league average of 4.42) and has produced just 17 homers, anemic wood-wielding teammates like shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is slugging below .300 with goose egg homer totals, are fiending for Machado’s return.

In Machado’s absence, third base production has been booty. O’s manager Buck Showalter has split the playing time between rookie Jonathan Schoop (14 starts) and veteran Ryan Flaherty (10 starts). The two have a combined OPS of .565—the lowest for any position on the team. In addition to Machado’s award-winning defense, his overall .283/.314/.432 line with 51 doubles was strong for his position and his 6.5 WAR ranked fifth in the AL and tied for seventh among players in their age-20 seasons since 1900. 

The rehab process was interrupted late in spring training camp when some scar tissue was breaking up. It was frustrating at times for all parties involved but the process had to be handled with care because Machado is the face of the franchise and an MLB jewel you can't risk losing permanently. After being activated by Baltimore earlier in the week, Machado was supposed to make his long-anticipated debut on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Camden Yards, but rain delayed his grand return.

Camden Yards will see Machado grace the diamond soon. At first, they’ll be stoked. Then Orioles fans will gasp with uneasy anticipation and grimace when Machado does one of his patented dives to stab an “uncatchable” ball, or books it around the bases for a triple.

Despite posting softball numbers in his three –game rehab assignment with Class-A-Frederick Keys, after missing the first 24 games of the season Machado isn’t expecting his body to be MLB–ready from the jump.

"That's the tough part, you want to try to block that out,” Machado said . “I did everything possible I could ever do in the rehab to get my strength back, get my flexibility back, and get right, basically. I did everything, so now it’s just going out there and trust yourself, that you put all that hard work into it, and go out there and not think about it, and play the game at 110 percent.”

Machado’s already altered the way he runs the bases in an effort to increase strength in his legs. "It wasn't a new way of running,” Machado said. “It was just kind of perfecting the way I ran, those are [the] things that come into play in the strength of my legs, the strength of my glutes. It was just a matter of getting it all together, getting it all to work the same way and just fixing the way I ran a little bit."

The return of Machado’s lethal leather and ever-improving bat won’t solve all of B-More’s bads. Currently, the O’s have the league’s third-worst rotation and sport a robust 4.74 ERA. Free agent addition Ubaldo Jimenez (6.59 ERA) is looking like another overpaid pitching failure and despite their second-place standing, to say Buck Showalter's scrappy squad hasn't put it all together yet would be an understatement. World Champion Boston, Tampa and Toronto don't like riding in the back seat either. It's going to be a dog fight the rest of the way. 

Teams don’t usually get do-over’s once the season begins, but the Orioles are in a unique position. The return of Machado, and eventually Davis, fuels a spring training-like optimism about the playoffs.  

The O's were able to use these first 24 games to get their Gold Glover healthy and get other cats some needed playing time. They'll use the next 15 days to learn how to survive without Crush Davis, a supreme masher who exploded for 53 bombs last season. Eventually, they'll be at full throttle and ready to make a serious run. Hopefully, Machado's rougher days are behind him. 



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