BALTIMORE — Manny Machado turned his butterflies into a big fly.
Making his return to Camden Yards on Tuesday as a member of the San Diego Padres, Machado homered against his former team. In his second at-bat, leading off the third inning, the ex-Oriole jumped all over a first-pitch fastball from Baltimore starter Jimmy Yacabonis and sent it screaming over the wall in left-center field. The solo blast, which was Machado’s 100th career homer at Camden Yards, traveled an estimated 455 feet.
Prior to his first plate appearance in the top of the first inning, Machado received a roaring, 40-second ovation from what appeared to be a significantly larger crowd than usual for a Tuesday night at Camden Yards. He waved to the Orioles fans, then struck out looking with a runner on first and one out.
Machado followed up his homer with an RBI single to left field in the fourth inning.
Before the game, Machado described feeling “a weird nervous” as he returned to Camden for the first time since being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July.
“I’m a little more nervous today to come there,” he said. “I’m never nervous. I guess it’s like a weird nervous, in a way. It’s just different.”
Machado was drafted by the Orioles in 2010, when he was the third overall selection behind Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon. He debuted with the Orioles on Aug. 9, 2012, and helped turn a moribund franchise into a contender, as Baltimore made the postseason three times during Machado’s time there.
A four-time All-Star who is known just as much for his defensive prowess as his slugging, the 26-year-old third baseman won a pair of Gold Gloves with the Orioles. In 2013, he won the Platinum Glove, an award given to the best defender in each league.
Instead of trading Machado following the 2017 season, with a year left on his contract, the Orioles opted to keep him in hopes of making a return to the playoffs. But Baltimore quickly faded from the playoff picture, leading to rampant speculation that the O’s would ship Machado to a contender. On July 18, 2018, the day after he made his fourth All-Star appearance, Machado was dealt to the Dodgers, with whom he moved to his natural position of shortstop and was part of a World Series run.
In February, Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. At the time, it was the largest free-agent contract in the history of North American pro sports. On Tuesday, a couple of hours before the opener of a two-game set between San Diego and Baltimore, Machado admitted that leaving as part of a trade was the lesser of two evils.
“I didn’t make the choice. It was made for me. So it makes it a little easier,” Machado said. “They just ship you away, and you’re going somewhere else, across the country, and trying to meet new faces. It’s hard. But I don’t think any of the choices are easy. When you’re here for so long in a place that you call home, you see the same faces every day, the same people, it grows on you. To leave like that halfway through the year, it kind of sucks.”
As for his return, besides having steamed crabs for dinner (which he said he would do after Tuesday’s game), Machado said he didn’t have any expectations.
“I don’t expect anything,” he said. “I expect to go out there and play baseball and win and just enjoy myself like I do every day. You really can’t expect anything. Whatever happens happens. You just take it and enjoy every moment of it, like I do every time. I know it’s the first time coming back. I’m going to see a lot of fans that supported us seven years, that I saw at third base, that I saw in the on-deck circle, I saw in the first row. Those faces will never be forgotten. Those fans were always there for us every single day. To see them again, it’s going to pretty fun to see those faces again.”
Chances are Machado will see fewer faces than he saw during his time in Charm City. Entering Tuesday’s action, the Orioles owned baseball’s worst record, at 22-56, and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in attendance, with an average of 16,758 fans per game.
The Padres, led by Machado and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., were 38-40 entering Tuesday and three games out of the second wild-card spot in the National League.
In 77 games with San Diego this season, Machado is hitting .278 with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs.
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