A contentious start to the series is exactly what we got in the Dodgers 5-2 series-opening victory on Tuesday.
The benches cleared during the sixth inning after Dodgers’ reliever Joe Kelly uncorked a pair of pitches that did not sit well with Astros batters.
The first was a 96 mph fastball that sailed behind Alex Bregman on a 3-0 pitch.
3-0 pitch from Joe Kelly ends up going behind Alex Bregman. pic.twitter.com/q6P8CD5oqj— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 29, 2020
The second was a curveball that forced Carlos Correa to duck out of the way.
Carlos Correa has to duck out of the way from an inside breaking ball from Joe Kelly. pic.twitter.com/NabNOVB0Q6— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 29, 2020
While Kelly didn’t hit either batter, at the very least the fastball seemed to have some intent behind it.
The benches didn’t clear until after the inning, when Kelly taunted Correa with some colorful language and this facial expression after striking him out.
The Astros were mostly upset about Kelly’s pitch to Bregman, which manager Dusty Baker says crossed the line.
Dusty Baker: "You don't throw at a guy's head. That's playing dirty baseball.''— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 29, 2020
Of course, the discontent all stems from the Astros sign-stealing scandal.
Many believe — Dodgers players included — it was Los Angeles that lost the most as a direct result of Houston’s scheme. After all, it was the Dodgers who fell to Houston in the 2017 World Series, when the sign-stealing scheme was reportedly at its height.
Dodgers players have been outspoken about it since the news first broke. Pitcher Ross Stripling said he would probably throw at Astros’ batters if given the change. Joc Pederson almost took a not-so-subtle shot at Houston right before the game.
#Dodgers OF Joc Pederson doesn't think whatever team wins the World Series this year should have an asterisk by its name. "They're not cheating their way to get there," he said.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) July 28, 2020
It all led to speculation that some form of retaliation was forthcoming.
For the first five innings, Tuesday’s game was mostly uneventful save for a minimal exchange of words between Bregman and Dodgers’ starter Walker Buehler. The mood completely changed once Kelly entered. The 32-year-old has been involved in retaliatory plunkings before. With the Boston Red Sox in 2018, he was suspended six games for hitting Tyler Austin in retaliation for a controversial slide.
No punches were thrown when the benches emptied. A suspension could still be handed down given the history and the fact there was a dust-up at a time when players are supposed to be social distancing. A fine is almost certain.
In recent months, baseball’s newest budding rivalry had been forced to take a backseat to far more important issues that are plaguing the league and the country. But it’s clear after Tuesday that this bad blood isn’t going away anytime soon.
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