SAN DIEGO — The gang roared, the San Diego Padres danced and Manny Machado exuberantly and impressively covered much more ground than he does nightly at third base.
He stood on the infield near the mound, soaking within the deafening cheers, waving his arms to solicit more noise as if he were a conductor directing a symphony.
He embraced Manager Bob Melvin in an extended hug filled with a season’s value of respect and emotion. He ripped off his shirt and, bare-chested within the Padres’ clubhouse, swore joyfully during a national television interview. He poured champagne. He drank beer. He smoked a cigar.
He had done what he got here to San Diego to do 4 seasons ago. He had led the charge to seize turf from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, the National League Championship Series and, possibly, the World Series were close enough to succeed in out and grab.
Now, this was Manny Machado, uncorked.
“There’s no higher feeling than this, man,” Machado said late Saturday night amid the stale smoke and sticky remnants of a Padres celebration for the ages. “We’re here. We’re within the National League Championship Series. We’re among the best teams in baseball. We beat the Mets as well. We’re on our option to something special here, something that San Diego has never seen.”
On a February 2019 day that seemed every bit as stunning because the Padres’ takedown of the Dodgers over the weekend, Machado astounded the baseball world by signing a 10-year, $300 million cope with San Diego. The Padres had finished 66-96 the yr before. It was difficult to decipher which side was taking an even bigger leap of religion.
The following week, Bryce Harper, the opposite marquee free agent that off-season, struck a 13-year, $330 million cope with Philadelphia. That seemed more comprehensible on the time. The Phillies were a generational team, had played within the World Series twice within the not-too-distant past (beating Tampa Bay in 2008 and losing to the Yankees in 2009) and were able to flex again. But Machado to … San Diego?
This week, Machado and Harper are within the N.L.C.S. as proof that the investments made in them were sound decisions.
The music contained in the clubhouse was pounding as if inside a nightclub, and Machado was having to boost his voice to rock-star levels to be heard. Would he also have a voice left by the point the Phillies arrived at Petco Park for Game 1 on Tuesday?
“I hope not,” he said, flashing a smile. “That’s an excellent thing. That’s an excellent thing. That’s an excellent thing.”
There was no echo. It was a drama-filled season. The Padres got no help — in any respect — from the would-be franchise player Fernando Tatis Jr. due to a broken wrist suffered in a bike accident last winter followed by a performance-enhancing drug suspension in August. By the tip of it, San Diego clearly had change into Machado’s town and Machado’s team.
His voice carries.
“Postseason Manny, he’s yelling all day, he’s locked into every game,” the left-handed starter Blake Snell said. He added: “He’s our leader. He’s the guy that everybody looks at.”
From catcher Austin Nola to Snell to Melvin and beyond, there is no such thing as a doubt.
“Manny’s the guy,” Melvin said. “It’s tough enough being the guy on the sphere and having to perform. It’s even harder to be the guy within the clubhouse, and he does it like he does on the sphere. There’s an easiness to it. He’s easy to confer with. Everybody likes him. He’s very friendly.
“He’s the identical within the clubhouse as he’s on the sphere.”
In San Diego, Machado had his own set of issues. As a part of the hard means of changing a losing culture, he has played for 4 managers in 4 seasons. At first there was Andy Green, a pleasant guy who inherited the unenviable task of teaching a gaggle of young players who weren’t ready for the bigs. There was Rod Barajas, a place-holder interim manager after Green was fired late in 2019. There was Jayce Tingler, who had never managed and lost control throughout the Padres’ epic second-half collapse in 2021.
Steadily, as he assimilated into his recent situation and particularly after the veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer was traded this summer, Machado took charge. A key moment: One night after Melvin scolded the team during a September slump, Machado led a players-only meeting to strengthen some points.
Wayne Kirby was with Baltimore’s coaching staff when Machado made his debut at age 19 in July 2012. Given Machado’s outsized talent and the fierceness in his game, Kirby could see that, with proper development, sooner or later he should lead.
When the 2 were reunited several years later after the Padres hired Kirby in 2020, he saw a Machado who had fully matured.
“You could possibly see, everybody was looking as much as him,” Kirby, now the Mets’ first base coach, said during an interview earlier this summer. “I’m so pleased with him.”
Melvin, the veteran manager the Padres had been missing, was with Oakland when Machado signed in San Diego and said, “I remember the years and the dollars and went, ‘Wow.’”
“But that’s what you pay for,” he said. “While you have a look at long-term contracts like that, you’re probably not sure how they’re going to play out. But what he’s done here and what he continues to do and what he’s done this yr deep into his contract, that is one among the higher contracts on the market.”
Machado, who has been considered a contender for the N.L.’s Most Worthwhile Player Award all season, batted .298 (fourth within the N.L.) with 32 homers and 102 R.B.I. in 2022. He also scored 100 runs and his .898 on-base plus slugging percentage was third within the league.
But equally necessary as his numbers is his presence. Since his arrival in San Diego, he has played in 519 of a possible 546 games — 95 percent. Discounting his rookie season in 2012 and the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, he has played in at the least 150 games in eight of his nine other seasons. And for the reason that start of the 2015 season, he has played in 1,156 games. The one player within the majors who has posted in additional is St. Louis’ Paul Goldschmidt (1,158), one other contender for this yr’s N.L. M.V.P.
“That’s why those guys get their $300 million contracts, right?” said David Ross, the Cubs manager and 15-year major-league veteran, in an interview earlier this summer. “That’s the worth they’re bringing. They’re a presence within the lineup.”
He wills away the damage and tear. In June, Machado sprained his left ankle badly but refused to go on the injured list and returned to the lineup after missing only nine games. He played much of the 2021 season after suffering an injury to his left shoulder that he said for a time prevented him from even having the ability to lift his arm.
“There’s value in that that’s underrated,” Hosmer said of Machado’s dependability before the Padres dealt him to Boston in August. “He puts up 158, 160 games a yr. For him to be available is beneficial.”
That is Machado’s fifth postseason, but only his second L.C.S. During his temporary stay in Los Angeles in 2018, the Dodgers slipped past Milwaukee but lost to Boston within the World Series. In Los Angeles, he was simply a temp, a midseason trade acquisition who played only three months there.
In San Diego, his mark is all over the place. And he’s aiming higher. Not long before David Ortiz was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, Machado discussed how the Hall of Fame and the World Series are his driving forces — and, perhaps, not in that order.
“You see the names and plaques that go up every yr of those individuals who played, did well, grinded,” he said. “Those are the players we glance as much as and sooner or later, hopefully, I’ll be sitting on that podium with them. That’s a child’s dream, winning the World Series, hitting a house run within the World Series. Second is the rostrum.”
Now he has his likelihood. Higher yet, in his town, along with his team.
“Anytime you sign long-term with a company, you may have a vision of bringing a championship, especially to 1 that’s never won,” he said after Game 3 against the Dodgers.
An evening later, it was almost as if the inner drive that fuels him was bubbling over as champagne sprayed from the bottles.
“We’re celebrating tonight being among the best teams in baseball,” Machado said. “And it feels good. It feels good. It feels really good.”