HOUSTON – The Houston Astros are trying to put their sign-stealing scandal behind them.
It seems as if the Los Angeles Dodgers have their own thoughts on the matter.
Benches cleared Tuesday night during the Dodgers' 5-2 victory over the Astros in the first game between the teams since it was revealed that Houston stole signs en route to a 2017 World Series championship that came at Los Angeles’ expense.
The fracas occurred after Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw high-and-tight pitches to Astros stars Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa in the sixth inning.
“Balls get away sometimes but not that many in the big leagues,“ Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “When you throw a 3-0 fastball over a guy’s head you’re flirting with ending his career.”
The Dodgers had a 5-2 lead after a five-run fifth when Kelly, who was with Boston in 2017 and also faced Houston that postseason, threw behind Bregman for ball four. Bregman grimaced after jumping to avoid being hit, then trotted to first base.
There were two outs in the inning when Kelly threw an errant breaking ball over Correa’s head. Correa, who homered and finished with three hits, took off his batting helmet and stared Kelly down before continuing the at-bat.
Kelly struck out Correa, then stuck out his tongue and made a face in his direction. Correa started walking toward him and the players exchanged words, prompting the benches to clear in the first such incident of this pandemic-delayed season. There was plenty of yelling and crowding — outlawed as MLB tries to play a 60-game season amid the pandemic — but there was no pushing or punches thrown.
Baker said things really got out of hand because of something he said Kelly told Correa after the strikeout.
“What really enraged everybody ... is when he told him: ‘Nice swing (expletive),'" Baker said. “What are you supposed to do then?"
Baker was asked if the Astros said anything to provoke Kelly.
“We didn’t say anything," he said. “We don’t start nothing. But we don’t take nothing either.”
Kelly denied that he purposely threw at the Astros. He was asked if there was any added motivation Tuesday since his Red Sox team lost to Houston in the AL Division Series in 2017.
“No. When I was with the Red Sox we beat them in ’18," he said. “It’s one of those things that I pitch competitively. With no fans here, it’s easy to hear some stuff (from the opposing dugout) ... there’s something they apparently didn’t take too kind to.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wasn't sure if Kelly's errant throws were retaliation for Houston's cheating.
“I really don’t know, to be quite honest," he said. “I know he got behind Bregman 3-0 and lost a fastball. I really don’t think there was intent behind that. I think those guys took a little bit of offense. Even the one to Correa, that was a breaking ball that just backed up."
“Obviously the expectation going into the series that things were kind of escalated maybe a little, I don’t know if prematurely’s the word, but that’s kind of what happened."
Order was restored after a couple of minutes and there were no ejections, but Baker was still upset before play resumed and got in the face of an umpire.
Bregman avoided questions about the incident postgame and Correa did not speak to reporters.
Houston was punished by the commissioners’ office in January for the sign-stealing scheme, which led to the firing of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. But many players around the league were unhappy that no players were disciplined for their roles in the cheating.
The Dodgers had harsh words for the Astros during spring training, but Roberts said before the game that he didn’t think his team would retaliate.
Brusdar Graterol (1-1) struck out two in a scoreless fifth for the win. Kenley Jansen allowed one hit in a scoreless ninth for the save.
Houston starter Framber Valdez (0-1) permitted four hits and three runs — two earned — in 4 1/3 innings.
Dodgers: LHP Alex Wood was placed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation and RHP Josh Sborz was recalled to take his roster spot. ... Roberts said ace Clayton Kershaw, on the injured list with back stiffness, was scheduled for a bullpen session on Tuesday. If that goes well he could start Friday night.
Astros: Reliever Joe Biagini was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder soreness. The Astros selected right-hander Andre Scrubb to the major league roster to take his spot.
Right-hander Dustin May (0-0, 2.08 ERA) will start for the Dodgers when the series wraps up on Wednesday night. May allowed seven hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings on opening day. Rookie Cristian Javier will make his first major league start in place of Justin Verlander, who is on the injured list with a forearm strain. Javier made his MLB debut on Saturday when he pitched one inning of relief.