It wasn’t Luke Hochevar’s intention Friday night to turn rookie Manny Machado into a Baltimore folk hero. Just as it wasn’t Hochevar’s intention to hang a couple of breaking balls.
The latter fueled the former. Machado marked his second big-league game by hitting a pair of homers and carrying the Orioles to a 7-1 victory over the Royals at Camden Yards. And, no, it hasn’t yet sunk in.
“It’s happening so fast,” he said, “but I’m having a good time.”
Machado, 20, was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft and was at Class AA Bowie when summoned to the majors prior to Thursday’s series opener. He played last month in the All-Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium.
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“It’s a new era,” Machado said. “We haven’t won in a long time, and this ballclub has been winning without me. And, hopefully, now that I’m up here, I can contribute to the team and help them (keep) winning.”
The pitches from Hochevar weren’t good pitches. But say this: Machado didn’t miss them. His first homer came on a full-count offering while leading off the fifth inning and extended Baltimore’s lead to 3-1.
“You can classify those pitches as mistakes,” Royals manager Ned Yost agreed, “but we made other mistakes today that were popped up or fouled back. He took advantage of it. That’s the mark of a nice young hitter.”
Machado admitted he fought to keep his emotions in check as he rounded the bases after his first homer while the crowd of 17,277 roared.
“It was the best feeling ever,” he said. “The crowd here loves me, and for them to support me like that, after my first home run. It just felt great.”
The last Oriole to hit a homer who was younger than Machado? How long would you guess to come up with Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher, as a 19-year-old rookie in 1965? Only Machado wasn’t done.
Let’s reset a moment: The Royals took a 1-0 lead against rookie Miguel Gonzalez on Salvy Perez’s homer in the second inning, but the Orioles answered later in the inning when Omar Quintanilla, the No. 9 hitter, jacked a two-run homer.
Machado’s second homer capped a four-run sixth that turned the game into a rout and finished Hochevar. The Orioles had already scored once after a walk and a hit batsman ignited the rally.
Runners were at second and third with one out when Hochevar worked the count 1-2 before offering up another spinner. Machado sent it into the same spot: it was caught by the same 15-year-old fan, a Baltimore native who now lives in the United Arab Emirates.
“Somebody told the officer (in the dugout),” Machado said, “that the same kid caught both balls, I was like, what? That’s crazy.”
What screenwriter could come up with this?
“It’s one of those nights,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, “that you’re really honored and lucky just to watch. I look at it more from a city of Baltimore standpoint. He'll put it behind him and realize there's another challenge tomorrow.”
Who can blame the Orioles’ fans for going bananas and demanding a dugout curtain call from Machado? (They got one.) They are a long-suffering collection – OK, not as long-suffering as some, but still – and they find themselves in a pennant race.
They have a young budding talent in Machado, whom the Orioles promoted from Double-A in hopes that he can deliver a spark. And, boy, has he. Machado was two for four Thursday in his debut before his big Friday performance.
“He’s done an awesome job so far,” Quintanilla said. “For somebody his age to come up and do what he’s done, it’s incredible. You know he’s got a lot of years to go, and I wish him the best.”
Gonzalez, 4-2, is another rookie who continues to provide the Orioles since returning in early July from Class AAA Norfolk. He limited the Royals to one run and six hits in a career-high eight innings before Pedro Strop finished up.
“I’d never heard of (Gonzalez) and never seen him,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. “You can say, `Oh, it’s the first time we faced the guy…’ And that’s true to some extent, but I was real impressed with his fastball.
“He worked it in and out. He had good movement. It was 92 (mph), but it felt like 94 or 95.”
It was a forgettable night for Hochevar, who fell to 7-10 and saw his ERA climb to 5.32 after giving up seven runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Much of damage came from the bottom one-third of the Orioles’ order. Nate McLouth, Machado and Quintanilla were a combined five for eight against Hochevar with four runs, a double, three homers and all seven RBIs.
The three homers came on pitches when Hochevar missed location.
“Three of them,” he said. “That’s what it falls on. Three mistakes that they didn’t miss. Hitters usually don’t miss mistakes at this level. That’s it.”
The loss ended the Royals’ three-game winning streak and evened the four-game series at one victory apiece.
Jarrod Dyson left the game in the eighth because of a sprained left ankle. The injury occurred on a swing that sent a ball over the head of center fielder Adam Jones. Instead of a sure triple, Dyson hobbled just to first for a single.
Dyson remained in the game long enough to be the front end of a double play when Alex Gordon followed with a grounder to second. (It was that kind of night). But Dyson didn’t take the field in the bottom of the inning.
“Nothing real serious,” Yost said. “He just caught his spikes when he swung. It’s a slight ankle sprain. We’ll go day to day with him.”