LOS ANGELES – The Houston Astros are returning to the scene of the crime. The Los Angeles Dodgers won't be there, but their fans surely won't let the visitors forget.
While the Dodgers head to Texas for the NL Division Series, their ballpark is hosting the AL Division Series in a postseason relocated due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Oakland Athletics and pitcher Mike Fiers will be in Los Angeles, too. Fiers last year revealed the Astros' sign-stealing plot during the 2017 World Series, which they won in seven games over the Dodgers and celebrated on their rival's field.
Now, Fiers will be facing his old team in the best-of-five series that begins Monday.
“Nobody’s mentioned his name,” first-year Astros manager Dusty Baker said Friday. “I haven’t heard Mike Fiers’ name all year until you just mentioned it.”
Three years has done little to stem the tide of scorn that has crashed over the Astros. They've been tarred and feathered as cheaters by other teams and fans, even though the current mix of rookies and second-year players hardly resembles Houston's powerhouse rosters of recent years.
“We're doing it with an oddball group,” Astros reliever Brooks Raley said.
After winning 101, 103 and 107 games in the last three regular seasons, capturing the 2017 World Series and losing the championship in seven games to the Washington Nationals last year, the Astros stumbled through this shortened season at 29-31.
They swept the Minnesota Twins in two games in the AL wild-card series with a group of many first- and second-year players filling the gaps created by injuries, slumps and departures.
“I felt like there was big relief after that first game,” Raley said. “We're finding guys to step up and finding offense to come through.”
The Astros worked out Friday at Target Field in chilly Minneapolis before flying to Los Angeles.
“Goin' back to Cali,” said Baker, the ex-San Francisco Giants manager and former Dodgers player.
Baker has yet to announce his rotation against the A's. West champion Oakland advanced to the Division Series by beating the Chicago White Sox in three games, ending 14 years of postseason futility.
Both the Astros and A's have played at the stadium recently. The A’s dropped two of three to the Dodgers from Sept. 22-24. The Astros split a two-game series with the NL West champions on Sept. 12-13.
Angry Dodgers fans greeted Houston’s buses as the team pulled in, hoisting large garbage cans in the air, chanting and waving signs. The Astros banged on a trash can to let their hitters know which pitch the opposing catcher was calling for in the World Series.
Even with fans banned because of the coronavrius, they didn't let Houston forget.
During both days of the series, the Astros were bombarded with messages towed by planes over the field. “Steal This Sign Astros” read one. “Astros Cheated! Never Forget! Go Dodgers” and “Hey Astros Try Stealing This Sign!” read others.
Baker isn't worried about his team being intimidated — inside or outside the ballpark.
“It's more important to welcome the big stage,” he said. “We're not playing our best ball yet; we just happened to win. To me, we're in the process. Things are rolling along pretty good.”
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