In a rematch of the 2017 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Houston Astros, 5-2, on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. It marked the first meeting between the two teams since the sign-stealing scandal that roiled baseball for months.
The Astros were sanctioned by MLB and shortly thereafter dismissed manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for their roles in the scandal, in which the Astros illegally stole signs using replay monitors and a “trash-can banging scheme” to signal their hitters at the plate. MLB’s investigation found that the Astros used the scheme during the 2017 regular season and postseason and into the 2018 season, although some opposing players believe it went on for longer. The Astros won that series in seven games.
As for Tuesday’s series opener, the highlight of the night came in the sixth inning when Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw behind a few Astros hitters, including Carlos Correa, which sparked a benches-clearing dust-up. Let’s run down what we need to know:
The expected bad blood
Surely many of the Dodgers who played in that 2017 World Series still feel cheated, but there weren’t fans in attendance to fan any flames and teams are strictly prohibited from fighting this season during the pandemic. As such, it would feel pretty weak if a pitcher felt empowered to dot an opposing player on purpose. It’s just a really bad look. Still, there appeared to be tensions. Early, this was Dodgers starter Walker Buehler directing some words at Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in possibly an angry exchange:
I’m not a lip reader and can’t tell, but it doesn’t seem like he was exchanging pleasantries. Then the real fireworks, several innings later.
Joe Kelly pitching for the Dodgers in the sixth inning: On a 3-0 count, he blazed a fastball behind the head and shoulders of Alex Bregman. The catcher was set up with a low-and-outside target. Bregman didn’t seem pleased, but didn’t say anything and ran to first.
Michael Brantley followed with a grounder to first that forced Bregman out at second and saw Kelly covering first base. The two seemed at odds and someone could be heard on camera yelling for Kelly to get back to the mound with an expletive (linked here if you’re curious).
Then came the Carlos Correa at-bat. A curveball flew over his head. Then an inside curve. Correa eventually struck out and cameras caught Kelly saying “thatta boy, nice swing!”
That led to lots of yelling back and forth and Kelly could be seen making, frankly, some really childish faces back at the Astros. Like this:
Benches cleared …
… but eventually cooler heads prevailed and no one actually made contact with each other.
It’s unclear if there was any intent behind any of Kelly’s pitches (the curves wouldn’t be on purpose and he generally has terrible fastball command), but it’s worth noting Kelly wasn’t personally wronged by the 2017 Astros. He wasn’t on the Dodgers. He was, however, on the 2018 Red Sox team that beat the Astros in the ALCS. Not that he wouldn’t be tight with his new teammates, we’re just providing all the context there is.
After the game, Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “balls get away sometimes, but not that many in the big leagues.” (via Alden Gonzalez)
Baker also noted that throwing at a player’s head is “dirty” baseball.
Joe Kelly’s side appears to be that the pitch to Bregman just got away. Via Dodgers beat writer Eric Stephen:
“It was a ball. It wasn’t my best pitch. … It’s never good to put a guy on. I wasn’t feeling the greatest. Took me a while to get into my mechanics.”
Tuesday’s series finale should be a doozy — here’s what you need to know and how to watch.
As for the actual game on Tuesday, a few more takeaways.
Change of pace from last time
The last time these two teams played in Minute Maid Park was one of the most ridiculous and exciting baseball games I’ve ever seen. It was Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, which ended up 13-12 in 10 innings. It concluded on a walkoff knock from Bregman, but also had …
- Dodgers with a 4-0 lead in the fourth
- Astros get four in the fourth to tie it
- Dodgers add three more in the fifth
- Astros score three to tie it
- Dodgers take a one-run lead in the seventh
- George Springer immediately ties in the bottom half
- The Astros get three more in the seventh to lead 11-8
- The Dodgers get three in the ninth to tie it
- Bregman’s walkoff single in the 10th ends it
There were eight doubles, a triple and seven home runs as part of the 28 hits. It took five hours and 17 minutes and went into the middle of the night.
Tuesday was a different story. The pacing was mostly quick and it didn’t take much longer than a league-average game.
The Astros got two runs early on a solo Correa shot and then an RBI single from Correa, but a five-run fifth from the Dodgers gave us our final score. Runs were only scored in three different innings. There was only one home run. The Dodgers’ entire fifth-inning rally contained zero extra-base hits.
And there were no fans. Quite the contrast.
Astros young bullpen in the spotlight
The Astros have nine rookie relievers and five of them were at least for a portion of the season in Class A last year. Though the Astros had an early lead, the most likely outcome here was the Dodgers’ excellent and deep offense taking it to the youngsters and, sure enough, it did sort of happen in the fifth, but overall it wasn’t a disaster.
Enoli Paredes kind of was a disaster. He allowed a walk, fielder’s choice and two singles.
After that, though, it wasn’t too bad. Andre Scrubb made his big-league debut and though he walked in a run to start things off, he got a double play on the next batter to end the nightmare inning and ended up with 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Nivaldo Rodriguez also made his MLB debut and pitched around two hits and a walk in two scoreless innings.
Dodgers bullpen locked things down
Walker Buehler isn’t yet stretched out and was removed after 3 2/3 mostly fine innings, though he did allow the two runs and that’s a 4.91 ERA. The bullpen took over from there and completely shut down the Astros’ offense. Adam Kolarek, Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly, Caleb Ferguson, Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen combined to allow only one hit over 5 1/3 scoreless innings. The only issues were Kelly’s two walks, really.
Astros top three struggled
George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are the most high-profile offensive players the Astros have. Lots of eyeballs are on them this year after the sign-stealing scandal somewhat dominated the offseason. Tuesday, the three combined to go 0 for 10 with Bregman’s two walks. I suppose you could say everyone but Correa struggled, really. They only recorded four hits and Correa had three of them with both RBI. Still, Springer, Altuve and Bregman are their stars. On the season, Springer is hitting .050/.174/.200 while Altuve and Bregman are both hitting an identical .222/.364/.444.