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Bill Plaschke: Joe Kelly finds his place in Dodgers lore by banging hard on trash-can Astros
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Bill Plaschke: Joe Kelly finds his place in Dodgers lore by banging hard on trash-can Astros

Thank you, Joe Kelly.

Thank you for banging hard on the trash can that is the Houston Astros.

Thank you for making sure the Dodgers didn't get cheated again.

Bless you, Joe Kelly, for a fearless, vengeful, and amazingly scoreless inning that will live forever in Dodgers lore.

In their first game at Houston's Minute Maid Park since they were robbed of the 2017 World Series championship, the Dodgers let long-bottled emotions finally explode through Kelly's wild right hand, his sharp tongue and his mocking expressions.

He not only stood up for a wronged clubhouse, he spoke for an aggrieved Dodger Nation, and it was a sight to see. The Dodgers spent the first five innings carefully controlling their rage as their fans surely watched in frustration, then Kelly stepped on the mound in the sixth and let it all out.

The Dodgers won the game, 5-2, but Kelly owned the night.

He knocked a batter down, rattled another batter into a staring match, used pickoff throws to continually pound a baserunner into the ground, glared at another baserunner, and eventually walked off the field screaming at the Astros while scrunching his face into that of a crying, pouting baby.

The benches emptied, and the Dodgers fans' newfound respect for the previously maligned Kelly will be overflowing.

On social media some suggested he be given a Mookie Betts-type contract. Others suggested they build him a statue. Don't laugh. He was that big.

For one moment, a thoughtful team that is sometimes too reserved for its own good was shaken awake with rare, honest emotion. For one night, on a club that thrives on teamwork, there was no better teammate.

There was one out in the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading 5-2 when the retribution began. Interestingly, Kelly was not one of the 10 active Dodgers who were on that wronged 2017 World Series team. He was not on that group that this winter's Major League Baseball investigation concluded was cheated in an elaborate sign-stealing caper involving stolen catcher's signs and possibly banged trash cans and whistling. He is not one of the Dodgers leaders who were so openly angry this spring when individual Astros were not punished and their stolen title was not vacated.

He is not Cody Bellinger, who had said, "Everyone knows they stole the ring from us."

He is not Justin Turner, who had said, "It's pretty evident to me that it wasn't earned, and it's not something that a banner should be hung at their stadium, a trophy should be put up."

By virtue of his newness, Kelly was always on the outside of that controversy. It obviously didn't matter. After a rough debut season in Los Angeles last summer, Kelly is a Dodger now.

One out, Alex Bregman batting, 3-and-0 count ... and Kelly threw the ball over his head for the walk. It just slipped, right? Right.

What happened next perhaps was a clearer window into Kelly's intentions when he threw three straight times to first base to force Bregman into three straight dusty dives even though there was little chance he was stealing.

The next batter, Michael Brantley, beat out a potential double-play grounder to first and appeared to spike Kelly in the process. The pitcher glared at him. Somebody from the unsettled Astros dugout shouted, "Just get on the mound!" with an expletive.

Kelly got back on the mound, all right. He walked Yuli Gurriel on four pitches that included one inside, then he sailed his next pitch over Carlos Correa's head. Of all the lame apology attempts by the Astros in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, Bregman's and Correa's were the worst.

Correa stared at Kelly as if he couldn't believe this sort of anger was being shown by the ever-calm Dodgers, and dodged another ball inside. Then, with runners on second and third, Correa stranded everyone with a lunging swing at another ball out of the strike zone.

As Correa walked away apparently complaining, Kelly walked off the mound while imitating a whiny baby. He shouted something at Correa before entering the dugout screaming, "Shut the ... up!"

Kelly indeed shut the Astros up. They collected but one hit in the final three innings against three other Dodgers relievers. Not that manager Dave Roberts could acknowledge Kelly's inspiration, of course. Nobody in baseball ever admits to this kind of stuff.

"I think that that's Joe's story to tell," Roberts said on a Zoom conference afterward. "I know that he had good stuff today, lost command a bit, reined it back in; that's good to see."

And what exactly did Roberts see? Nothing, nothing at all.

"I really don't know ... he lost a fastball ... those guys took a little bit of offense ... the expectations going into this series, things were kind of escalating a little ... that's kind of what happened."

Kelly then told his story, during which he reminded everyone of this summer's infamous shutdown backyard video in which he threw a pitch so wildly, he broke a window.

"My accuracy isn't the best," he said. "I broke my window with my newborns coming, two days before they were born."

His comments about specific actions contained the same shrugs.

On the pitch to Bregman: "It was a ball obviously ... it wasn't my best pitch."

On the pitch to Correa: "I guess he didn't take too kindly to a curveball ... it is what it is ... I pitch competitively ... something they apparently didn't take too kindly to."

Dusty Baker, the Astros manager, said Kelly pitched "dirty' and said he had no doubt it was all about revenge.

"Balls get away sometimes, but not that many in the big leagues. ... A 3-0 fastball over a guy's head, now you're flirting with ending his career," Baker said. "What upset me was the umpires warned us. ... Why don't you warn him? ... He's the one who started this mess in the first place."

Baker actually sounded surprised somebody would make it difficult for his cheaters, saying this is the first time in this just-started season that they have seen such inside pitching.

"This is the first time. They said they warned everybody from the beginning. This is the first time it's happened," he said.

It was perhaps the first time anyone has seen those mocking baby faces coming from a grown pitcher as Kelly was staring down Correa, and what exactly was that all about?

"I guess my expression was what I interpreted in my head what he said," Kelly said.

Correa was whining. Good for Kelly. The Astros spent the entire winter whining. Good for Kelly.

The Astros are getting off the hook during this shortened season because there will be no fans to boo and jeer and bang trash cans at them.

The Astros will not play in front of a Southern California crowd that was ready to unload its deep and abiding rage on the team that pilfered what would have been the Dodgers' first World Series championship in 29 years.

The Astros almost could be lulled this summer into thinking everyone is going to forget.

Thank you, Joe Kelly.

———

(c)2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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