As previewed earlier, the Astros and Dodgers met up in a regular season game for the first time this season and, more importantly, for the first time since the Astros were punished by Major League Baseball for their cheating scheme used during the 2017 campaign to steal signs. The Astros ultimately defeated the Dodgers in the World Series to win the first championship in franchise history. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he didn’t expect his players to retaliate for the Astros’ transgressions. I suggested it might not happen due to the pandemic and the need for social distancing. Boy, were we naïve.
In the sixth inning, with the Dodgers leading 5-2, Joe Kelly threw a 3-0 fastball that sailed over Alex Bregman‘s head to the backstop. Michael Brantley then grounded into what could have been a 3-6-1 double play, but Brantley narrowly beat the throw. As Brantley crossed first base, he stepped on Kelly’s ankle, reminiscent of former Dodger Manny Machado spiking Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar’s ankle during Game 4 of the 2018 NLCS.
Later in the sixth, with runners on first and second, Kelly threw a first-pitch fastball that nearly hit Carlos Correa in the head. The ball sailed to the backstop and allowed both runners to advance. Correa glared at Kelly, who had come towards him in the event of a play at the plate. Kelly ultimately won the exchange, striking Correa out on a slider. As Kelly retreated from the mound towards the dugout, he made some exaggerated sad faces and barked, “Nice swing, b**ch” at Correa. The two teams’ benches emptied but no punches were thrown and there were no ejections.
The Dodgers went on to win 5-2. After the game, Kelly insisted he didn’t throw intentionally at Bregman or Correa, citing his own lack of control that went viral in April. Kelly’s wife Ashley posted a video of Kelly throwing a training device called CleanFuego in their back yard. The “ball” slipped and broke one of the windows of their house. It’s true that, even beyond the viral video, Kelly has at times struggled with his control. There is no way to definitively prove intent short of cartoon villain-like actions or his own admission, but it still doesn’t look good.
During the offseason, commissioner Rob Manfred issued a memorandum discouraging teams to retaliate against the Astros. Additionally, one of the temporary rules for the shortened 60-game 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic is that players and coaches can’t start altercations with other teams or argue with umpires in order to maintain proper social distancing. As one can see in the above video, there wasn’t much social distancing going on at a time in which around half of the Marlins’ active roster has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be held out of action for a week.
It will be interesting to see how Manfred handles this situation. The league looks really bad given the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak. If Manfred does nothing, he reveals his own memorandums and temporary COVID-19 social distancing rules to be toothless during a pandemic, arguably when enforcement of rules are more important than ever. If Manfred does punish Kelly for throwing at Astros batters, and both teams for allowing their benches to clear, he will need to do so in a way that actually feels like a punishment rather than a short unpaid vacation and a slap on the wrist.