HOUSTON >> Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly was suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball on Wednesday, a day after throwing a fastball near the head of Houston’s Alex Bregman and mockingly taunting Astros star Carlos Correa.
Benches cleared after Kelly’s actions during the sixth inning of Los Angeles’ 5-2 win at Minute Maid Park. The game marked the first time the teams had met since it was revealed Houston stole signs en route to a 2017 World Series title that came at the Dodgers’ expense.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was suspended one game and Astros manager Dusty Baker was fined an undisclosed amount.
Baker said he was fined because his players came onto the field, breaking COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
“It’s no big deal,” he said of the fine. “I’ll just pay a fine. No problem.”
Kelly elected to appeal and can continue to play until the process is complete. Roberts served his penalty Wednesday night when the Dodgers beat Houston 4-2 in 13 innings.
Kelly, a hard thrower with a touch of wildness, has previously been suspended in his career for throwing at a batter. An eight-game penalty in this virus-shortened 60-game season is equivalent of 22 games in a 162-game season.
“I think that the punishments were fair,” Baker said.
The lingering animosity the Dodgers felt toward the Astros — who were penalized by MLB in the offseason after their scam came to light — had been brewing. It bubbled over when Bregman, a star of the Astros’ run to their championship, came to bat in the bottom of the sixth on Tuesday night.
The Dodgers led 5-2 when Kelly, who was with Boston in 2017 and also faced Houston that postseason, zipped a 3-0 fastball behind Bregman’s head. Bregman grimaced after jumping to avoid being hit, then trotted to first base.
There were two outs in the inning when Kelly threw a 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 to end the inning, 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.
Kelly denied that he purposely threw at the Astros. He was asked if there was any added motivation Tuesday because 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 Tuesday night. “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.”
After the game, Roberts said he wasn’t sure if Kelly’s pitches 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,” he said.
Said Baker: “Balls get away sometimes but not that many in the big leagues.”
“When you throw a 3-0 fastball over a guy’s head you’re flirting with ending his career,” he said.
Baker said things really got out of hand because of something he said Kelly told Correa after the strikeout.
“We didn’t say anything,” he said. “We don’t start nothing. But we don’t take nothing, either.”
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.
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.
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.
The penalties were imposed by former pitcher Chris Young, MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations. This was his first discipline case since taking over the job from Joe Torre.