For all the talk that the Dodgers were looking forward and not backward in their return trip to Houston, leave it to a pitcher who wasn’t even on the 2017 Dodgers to ignite the powder keg.
Benches cleared after the bottom of the sixth inning after Joe Kelly had an eventful frame, to say the least. With one out and a 3-0 count, and the Dodgers up 5-2, Kelly threw a 96.4-mph fastball way up and in to Alex Bregman.
“It was a ball, obviously. It wasn’t my best pitch,” Joe Kelly said after the game, via conference call. “It’s never good to put a guy on. I wasn’t feeling the greatest, I wasn’t the most comfortable. Took me a while to get into my mechanics.”
Michael Brantley followed with a fielder’s choice ground out, with Kelly appearing to take issue with getting stepped on at first base by Brantley. Someone from the Astros dugout appeared to yell out to Kelly, “Get on the mound, motherfucker.”
"Get on the mound, motherfucker." pic.twitter.com/1UrW4sYwua— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) July 29, 2020
After a walk to Yuli Gurriel, Kelly’s second pitch to Carlos Correa was an 86.7-mph knuckle curve that was also way up and in, after which Correa stared out to Kelly on the mound.
“He didn’t take too kindly to the curveball,” Kelly said after the game. “It is what it is.”
Kelly needed four more pitches to strike out Correa to end the threat.
As Kelly walked back to the dugout he turned and said something to Correa, then the two began to exchange words. After the game, we learned the magic words used by Kelly.
Dusty Baker said Joe Kelly told Carlos Correa "nice swing, bitch" following the strikeout.— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) July 29, 2020
Within a few moments, benches cleared, though in a fairly tame fashion.
Carlos Correa and Joe Kelly exchanged words after Kelly struck out Correa. Benches cleared following the exchange. pic.twitter.com/sVHaibpN2y— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 29, 2020
Here’s what Dusty Baker said postgame about Joe Kelly in the 6th inning: pic.twitter.com/aQhTntXCH9— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) July 29, 2020
Nothing really happened during the melee, though the tension between the teams was clear.
There are two interesting factors here. For one, even though nothing much happened, discipline from the league could be coming. Per the MLB operations manual, such violations of social distancing are not allowed:
Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.
One figures that, given the Marlins’ outbreak with at least 15 players reportedly testing positive for COVID-19, MLB is on heightened alert this week to avoid any sort of activity during and around games that violating social distancing protocols. Whether that results in harsher or more likely punishments for even the thought of a kerfuffle in Houston remains to be seen.
“I don’t know if there’ll be discipline, but I do know that it’s really frowned upon in general, and really under these circumstances,” manager Dave Roberts said after the game. “When tempers and emotions get high, guys are going to do things. I think as coaches, as the manager, we need to do our part to keep guys on the bench. I can certainly do better, but I’m happy to see that nothing came of it.”
The other factor is that Kelly wasn’t even on the 2017 Dodgers! Kelly was a member of the Red Sox that season, and did lose to Houston in four games in the American League Division Series. Kelly himself pitched 2⅔ scoreless innings in his two games in that ALDS and earned Boston’s lone victory.
The usual knock on Kelly is that he often doesn’t know where the ball is going when he throws it, and even broke a window at his own house while working on a changeup this offseason, missing a giant net in his yard.
“I mean, my accuracy isn’t the best,” Kelly said. “I broke my window with my newborns coming, two days before they wore born.”
That’s probably not enough plausibility deniability for Kelly to avoid any sort of punishment, if there is any, though.