We all expected tension when the Dodgers played the Astros, who cheated their way to beating the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series and showed minimal remorse for those actions, but nobody expected the series to go down quite how it did.
Many veteran players in the 2017 World Series were not around or at least not on active rosters, as Clayton Kershaw and Just Verlander are hurt, Yu Darvish is now on the Cubs, and Charlie Morton on the Rays. However, the young cores of both teams were still the same, with Max Muncy, Walker Buehler, Mookie Betts, Roberto Osuna, and Michael Brantley being the only major players not to play in that World Series.
However, those young cores, arguably the two best in baseball, did essentially nothing in the series other than despise each other. The Astros were uncharacteristically dormant offensively, with George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman going a combined 0-21 in the series. Similarly, aside from a fifth inning on Tuesday in which many Dodgers had RBI singles, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, and Max Muncy barely hit.
Tensions did arise in Tuesday's game however after the Dodgers had taken the lead after an outing from a not-yet-built-up Walker Buehler, who looked sharp before hitting a wall in the fourth inning. Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly, already infamous for playing a major role in a fight when he was on the Red Sox, threw a 96-mph fastball behind Alex Bregman's head to complete a four pitch walk. Bregman was clearly upset, taking his time walking to first base. Kelly responded with a yawn.
After getting spiked on a groundout from Brantley (Kelly's foot was pretty inside the bag, so it likely wasn't an excessively malicious act), either Astros manager Dusty Baker or their first base coach shouted at Kelly to "Get back on the mound little fucker." Kelly obeyed and threw an off-speed pitch near Carlos Correa's head before striking him out to end the inning. Likely due to a combination of having gotten cheated by the Astros when he was with the Sox in '17, loyalty to his teammates, the expletive from the Astros dugout, and annoyance with Correa's comments toward Bellinger in Spring Training, Kelly taunted Correa, "Nice swing, bitch." Correa, infamous among non-Astros fans of baseball for being just that, spit in Kelly's direction (blatant COVID protocol violation, by the way) and then Kelly distorted his face and made a crying/pouting face at Correa to the delight of the everybody watching except for the Astros and their fans.
A few more words were exchanged, as seen in Jomboy's excellent breakdown, but after the benches cleared nothing came of the incident and the Dodgers proceeded to win the game 5-2.
Between the games however, Major League Baseball announced it was suspending Joe Kelly for a WHOPPING 8 games and Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts for one (for allowing the bases to clear). Roberts served his suspension Wednesday night, but Kelly appealed his due to the length being unprecedented in baseball history. Kelly didn't hit anybody with a pitch. Kelly didn't even get thrown out of the game. The decision just goes to show the lengths to which Commissioner Manfred (Manfraud, if you prefer) will go to protect the Astros player, widely reviled around the league for their cheating and general failure to take responsibility for their actions.
After warnings were issued to both teams, they played a clean game on Wednesday, although it was excruciating to watch. The Dodgers flailed at the plate, as they have much of the season, scoring only one run from a Corey Seager home run early in the game. Dustin May was good for a guy who later admitted he didn't have all of his stuff that day, but didn't last very far into the game.
The Dodgers didn't score again until a Betts double drove in Kiké Hernandez, who had started the inning at second base. However, the Dodgers couldn't hold the lead and had to wait for Edwin Rios' 13th inning moonshot to win the game 4-2.
The real story, both days, was the Dodgers bullpen, who pitched 15 2/3 innings and allowed 0 earned runs. Kenley Jansen pitched both days, earning the save on Tuesday and throwing a messy, but scoreless, ninth inning on Wednesday. Caleb Ferguson looked tremendous, striking out five of the six batters he faced and throwing 97 with a curveball and nasty cutter. Treinen pitched well both days, and Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander and Jake McGee were welcome surprises with good innings. Graterol threw gas as usual on Tuesday. Kelly was, uh, interesting, but it's hard to tell if he didn't have his command or was just messing around.
Dennis Santana, however, stole the show with a tremendous, and I mean tremendous, save Wednesday in which he pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, all of them starting with a runner on second base. The Astros could do nothing but watch as Santanna dominated them, which was really nice to see from him.
While the offense has struggled so far this season, which the exceptions of Seager, Turner, and Pollock, the entire bullpen has pitched dominantly, which is awesome after the Dodgers have had shaky 'pens the last few years. Hopefully they'll get some rest as Stripling take the mound against Robbie Ray tonight in Arizona, and hopefully the bats will wake up against a familiar foe.
It was only a two game sweep in Houston this week, but it meant a lot to Dodger fans and I'm sure it did to players as well. Edwin Rios, when asked if it meant more to beat them, even though he wasn't anywhere near the 2017 team, answered "1000%." For us, I think it might have been closer to a million. Regardless, it was incredibly satisfying to go into Houston, a place where many, many, bad memories where unjustly made, after a split against the Giants and take both games against those bozos. The Dodgers should be able to build on this momentum and can hopefully sweep the Astros again when the come to Los Angeles in September.
Photo Credit: Dodgers Twitter