If Baltimore Orioles rookie Manny Machado is truly a shortstop stuck at third base, he's certainly making it hard to tell.
Displaying both a savvy that belies his youth and an agility that is emblematic of it, the 20-year-old rookie pulled off an amazing defensive play to end the top of the ninth on Wednesday night to keep a crucial A.L. East battle with the Tampa Bay Rays deadlocked, 2-2.
With two away in the road ninth, Evan Longoria came to the plate with a man on first. Rays pinch-runner Rich Thompson stole second base during the at-bat, moving the go-ahead run into scoring position. On a full count, the Tampa All-Star bunted Jim Johnson's offering up the third base line. Machado charged the rolling bunt, barehanding the ball as his momentum took him toward home plate. Thompson had taken off on contact and rounded third as Machado faked a throw to first base. To the surprise of Thompson, Machado then contorted his body, turned and tossed the ball to O's shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was covering third.
Thompson was now caught in a rundown between third and home. He'd eventually be wrangled for the final out of the inning, keeping the game tied as it went to the bottom of the ninth.
"I was trying to get Evan out to be honest, but then when I came up I saw I had no chance," Machado told reporters after the game, via The Associated Press. "So I did a pump-fake and tried to deke the runner. It was just natural. I just came out and didn't think about it."
Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Machado was serenaded by chants of "Manny, Manny" as he stepped up to the plate. He hit a single on the first pitch he saw from Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth. After a Robert Andino sac bunt moved him to second, Machado scored the game-winning run on Nate McLouth's walk-off single.
The Orioles' 3-2 win kept them tied atop the A.L. East standings with the New York Yankees.
The third overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Machado was just 19 when the season began. When the O's called him up from Double-A in August, manager Buck Showalter framed the move as being part of the race to October.
"If we can do something that makes us two inches better to have a chance to win the last 49 games, we're going to do it," Showalter told the Orioles official website, via ESPN.com
With his bat and stellar glove, Machado has provided more than inches of improvement in Baltimore as the team has pushed hard for a playoff spot in the second half. By taking over at third, he moved Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit off the hot corner, vastly improving the infield defense.