Zach Wilt: Already missing Machado

There's no crying in baseball - unless, of course, you're an Orioles fan who watched Manny Machado go down Monday at Tropicana Field. Then crying is completely acceptable. I'm OK admitting that my eyes got a little misty as I watched the Birds' young phenom get carted off the field on a stretcher after twisting his leg on first base. I didn't take the injury well, I felt sick to my stomach watching the replays and sat in silence, unsure how I should react as the game continued.

After it went final, I found myself listening to sad music and was told that I appeared distracted and in distraught in my conversations that evening. Middle schoolers handle their first breakup better than I dealt with Machado's injury. It was heartbreaking and depressing. A friend of mine posted on Facebook after watching the injury that "loving sports is a mistake." It certainly would have been easier on Monday if I wasn't a fan at all.

I was putting the finishing touches on my weekly piece for MASNsports.com when my dad called about Machado's injury. I had the game on in the living room and walked into the office to focus on finishing my guest blog. My dad's voice sounded grim and somber when we talked on the phone, something I'm not used to as he's usually lighthearted and often times goofy in our conversations. I watched the play and scrapped my article, deciding instead to write about Machado and what he's meant to the Orioles over the past 207 games.

That's 207 consecutive games. Since being promoted Aug. 9, 2012, Machado hasn't missed a start for the Orioles at third base. He and Adam Jones have played in all 156 games this season and have both been key contributors in Buck Showalter's lineup.

It's almost laughable to think about last year's storylines surrounding Machado's call-up. Remember when people were worried about moving him from shortstop to third base? What about the folks that were concerned that the O's rushed his development at the plate?

Machado answered all the critics, not with his words, but rather with his play on the diamond. In 202 plate appearances, Machado hit .262/.294/.445 with eight doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 26 RBIs for the O's in 2012. He quickly gained national attention for stellar play at third base and helped solidify the left side of a previously struggling Orioles infield defense.

Even at the beginning of 2013, many baseball experts questioned Machado's abilities. How will he handle hitting in the two-hole? Is he on the same level as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout? Will there be a sophomore slump?

In 154 games as the Orioles' No. 2 hitter, Machado hit .285/.313/.435 this season. He made his first All-Star Game and continued to captivate the baseball world as one of the best defensive third baseman in the game. No player has had more Web Gems on ESPN this season than Machado.

How much does he mean to the Orioles? FanGraphs.com lists Machado as a 6.1 WAR player, 11th in Major League Baseball, just behind four-time All-Star and 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto. Machado's 30.9 UZR is the highest in the American League among all position players. Baltimore's top-ranked defense has Machado's 116 putouts, 353 assists and 42 double plays to thank for its overall production.

Unfortunately, Machado wasn't eligible for Rookie of the Year honors this season after registering more than 130 at-bats in 2012. I'm sure he'd tell you he'd trade the accolades in exchange for a few swings in the postseason. Machado would have easily been a top candidate for 2013 Rookie of the Year and should take home a Gold Glove for his incredible season at third base.

He has greatness written all over him. His injury is not only detrimental to the Orioles, but also to Major League Baseball. I can't count how many times I've stood in awe of Machado as he charged a ball in the infield grass, fielded it with his bare hand and made an off-balance throw to first base to get a speedy baserunner. I've shown clips of his plays to my wife, who isn't a baseball fan, dozens of times and pointed out how easily he makes difficult plays look routine while watching him live at Camden Yards.

Hopefully, Machado and the Orioles get good news from the MRI and he can quickly begin his path to recovery. It's been an honor watching the 21-year-old play and I'm already eager to see him back on the field.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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