There was one question looming over Wednesday’s finale of a two-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros: Would the Astros retaliate after Joe Kelly ignited a benches-clearing gathering for throwing pitches near Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa’s heads Tuesday?
The answer was no.
Pitches weren’t fired at any batters in the 13 innings played. Obscenities weren’t traded. There was no evidence that the clubs despised each other. They just played a clean baseball game inside a hollow Minute Maid Park and the Dodgers completed a mini sweep with a 4-2 win on Edwin Ríos tie-breaking two-run home run.
It was the first game the Dodgers played under Major League Baseball’s new rule for the 2020 season that stipulates a runner starts at second base in each extra inning.
Kiké Hernández, the final Dodgers batter retired in the 10th inning, went to second base to start the 11th with the game tied at one. He advanced to third base on a groundout. Max Muncy then worked a two-out walk before Mookie Betts whacked a 93-mph cutter from Cy Sneed off the left-field wall. They were the star right fielder’s sixth hit and third RBI as a Dodger.
The lead vanished when Correa lined a game-tying single to right field off Scott Alexander in the bottom of the frame. But the Astros (3-3) stranded runners on the corners when Dennis Santana struck out George Springer looking.
The score remained tied until Ríos stepped to the plate to start the 13th with Hernández again at second base. Ríos clubbed the sixth pitch he saw from Sneed over the right-field wall for the first leadoff two-run home run in Dodgers history.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a call from MLB on Wednesday morning to inform him that a punishment for Tuesday’s heated events would arrive quickly. They weren’t lying. And they weren’t lenient.
At 4:01 p.m. local time, MLB announced it had issued Kelly an eight-game suspension — the equivalent of 22 games in a standard 162-game season — and suspended Roberts for one game.
Kelly elected to appeal the ban and was available to pitch Wednesday. Roberts chose to serve his suspension. Bench coach Bob Geren managed the Dodgers (4-2) in his place Wednesday.
Astros manager Dusty Baker, who called Kelly’s actions dirty, was the only member of his organization disciplined. He was fined an undisclosed amount.
As Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood predicted in February: anyone who retaliated for the Astros’ cheating in 2017 would face a penalty that Astros players never did for participating in their trash-can-banging scheme.
MLB outlined Kelly was suspended because he threw a pitch “in the area of the head of Alex Bregman and later taunted Carlos Correa, which led to the benches clearing.” The league noted that Kelly “has previously been suspended in his career for intentional throwing,” seemingly prompting a harsher penalty than usual for throwing at a batter.
Kelly served a six-game suspension as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2018 when he plunked Tyler Austin, then with the New York Yankees, as retaliation for Austin spiking a teammate. Austin charged the mound, sparking a brawl.
Kelly spent the suspension watching games from different locations in the stands at Fenway Park and Rogers Centre in Toronto. Finding a seat whenever he serves his suspension this season shouldn’t be a problem at any ballpark.
Kelly was in the Dodgers bullpen Wednesday, but he wasn’t one of the eight relievers to hold Houston to one run over the final 11 2/3 innings.
Wednesday’s matchup was supposed to begin as a battle between Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander — two of the best pitchers of their generation, MVP winners, owners of multiple Cy Young Awards each, and future Hall of Famers. It would’ve been a memorable installment to this rivalry. But they both landed on the injured list over the last week. Instead, two rookies nowhere near the 2017 World Series were thrust into the fire.
Dustin May, the Dodgers’ top prospect, took the mound for Kershaw, who was placed on the injured list with back stiffness hours before he was scheduled to start opening day. For the Astros, Cristian Javier made his first career start and second career appearance after Verlander was placed on the injured list Monday with a forearm strain.
May has the hype but Javier was the better pitcher Wednesday.
The Astros were able to balloon May’s pitch count early, forcing the Dodgers to pull him with one out in the fourth inning after throwing 76 pitches, though they could only score one run off him. It came in the second inning on a two-out RBI infield single Myles Straw beat with a headfirst slide.
The 22-year-old May allowed three hits, walked two and struck out three. Ross Stripling’s seven-inning start in the second game of the season remains the only time a Dodgers starter has pitched into the sixth inning in 2020.
Javier, 23, was more efficient. The right-hander began his night striking out seven of the first 10 batters he faced through three innings. His only blemish was Corey Seager’s leadoff homer in the second inning.
He finally encountered trouble in the sixth. Austin Barnes walked and Max Muncy singled to bring up Betts with one out. But Betts flied out and Cody Bellinger, after Javier was pulled for left-hander Blake Taylor, popped out to end the threat.
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