Yeah, the other teams still don’t like the Astros very much.
Baseball really and truly came back on Tuesday in Houston with the first bench-clearing brouhaha, which included the usual jawing and posturing, but no punches thrown.
It was the first game between the Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers since the revelation that Houston had been stealing signs via an illegal video stream and communicating them to batters by banging on a trash can. The scheme was used in the 2017 World Series, which the Astros won over the Dodgers in seven games, giving Los Angeles an extra incentive to hold a grudge.
“I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that if they weren’t cheating, we would have won the World Series,” Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood said this spring.
In the sixth inning, the Dodgers were ahead by 5-2, and their reliever Joe Kelly was on the mound. He seemed to be having control problems and got behind in the count against Alex Bregman, 3-0, with some very bad pitches. Pitch four was the worst, a fastball that flew behind Bregman’s head. Bregman ducked sharply to avoid it, but it was an obvious ball four.
Tension was in the air after the pitch, but players stayed on the benches. Kelly’s previous wildness perhaps gave him the benefit of the doubt, and indicated the pitch might have been unintentional.
It was a little harder to call the next one unintentional. After a groundout and another walk, Kelly threw high and inside again to Carlos Correa, who likewise had to duck out of the way. There were some stares, but the at-bat continued and Correa wound up striking out.
Then the jawboning really ignited, and Kelly was seen making faces at Correa. The Astros said later that he had said, “Nice swing,” after the strikeout.
At last the teams could no longer resist, and poured onto the field. No shoves or punches were seen, but there was plenty of arguing and shouting as dozens of players and coaches spilled onto the field.
In the center of the action was Astros Manager Dusty Baker, who didn’t let his mask stop him from giving an extended piece of his mind to the umpires. “Balls get away sometimes, but not that many in the big leagues,” Baker told reporters after the game.
While some of those in the scrum were wearing masks, most were not, and the contretemps took place at distances that were far from social. The sport’s health and safety protocols for this season state: “Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action,” and players were at the very least skirting this line.
Things calmed down after the confrontation, and the game ended, 5-2, to the Dodgers.
Kelly was with the Boston Red Sox in 2017, not the Dodgers, but he is known as being something of a combative player. After the game, he denied throwing at either Astros player and said his facial expressions were merely an imitation of Correa.
While the Astros were hit with fines and the loss of draft picks over the cheating scandal, and their manager, A.J. Hinch, and general manager, Jeff Luhnow, were fired in the aftermath of the cheating revelations, many in the league would have liked to see even harsher penalties. Perhaps a few have resolved to deal those punishments themselves by way of an inside pitch or two.
Other teams besides the Dodgers have expressed displeasure with Houston for the cheating scandal. It could well be that Tuesday’s fracas is not the last one in this short season.