USA TODAY Sports Steve Gardner breaks down MLB’s opening week.
HOUSTON — They may be playing baseball in the middle of a world-wide pandemic, where social distancing is strongly encouraged, and breathing on one another is prohibited. But sorry, it wasn’t about to stop three years of built-up anger and rage.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, believing they were robbed of a World Series title in 2017 by the Houston Astros after their cheating scandal was exposed this winter, vowed they would seek vengeance.
Well, it came, loud and clear Tuesday night in the Dodgers’ 5-2 victory at Minute Maid Park, with Dodgers veteran reliever Joe Kelly instigating the first bench-clearing incident of the 2020 season.
It began when he threw a 96-mph fastball over the head of Alex Bregman to lead off the sixth inning, then a curveball over the head of Carlos Correa three batters later. He then taunted Correa after striking him out.
Just like that, the two benches cleared, the bullpens emptied, and everyone was standing, yelling, and gesturing in front of the Dodgers’ dugout.
It was a true bench-clearing incident, only Pandemic Style, with no punches thrown, no pushing, no shoving, but certainly no social distancing, either.
There were no open signs of animosity before the game, and the game was played clean with little emotion right up until Kelly took the mound in the sixth inning. Kelly, who was on the Boston Red Sox team that got beat by the Astros in the 2017 Division Series, immediately fell behind 3-and-0 to Bregman, and then fired a 96-mph fastball over his head for Ball 4.
Kelly stared at him, and deeply yawned for effect, as Bregman lowered his head, dropped his batting gloves, and headed to first base for a walk without uttering a word.
“You going to throw at somebody,’’ Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “you don’t throw at a guy’s head. That’s dirty baseball. Now you’re flirting with ending his career.’’