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Column: Sweep leaves Dodgers with oh-so-satisfying feeling

Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly talks toward Houston Astros' Carlos Correa after the sixth inning on Tuesday in Houston.
Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly talks toward Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa after the sixth inning on Tuesday in Houston. Kelly received an eight-game suspension for his actions after he threw a pitch in the area of the head of Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman and later taunted Correa, which led to the benches clearing.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

This was any other game the way Sandy Koufax was any other pitcher or the Trojan Horse was any other vehicle of subterfuge.

This was revenge.

For the record:

5:36 AM, Jul. 30, 2020

An earlier version of this column included descriptions of an Instagram post that was mistakenly identified as Joe Kelly’s

This was catharsis.

This was a signature victory in what could be a season of destiny for the Dodgers.

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The Houston Astros don’t have Yordan Alvarez in their lineup. Their starting rotation is in shambles.

Didn’t matter.

The Dodgers wanted to win these games. They had to win these games.

And they did, sealing a two-game sweep over the garbage can-whacking cheaters who stole a World Series from them with a 13-inning, 4-2 victory at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night.

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The triumphs were a symbol of the team’s resolve.

No team was wounded by the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme as much as the Dodgers, but manager Dave Roberts’ team was determined to forge a new identity.

The victims became the assailants. The prey became the hunters.

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The Dodgers made their statement the same way they won seven consecutive National League West championships — with their depth.

A day after head-hunting, trash-talking and face-contorting reliever Joe Kelly emerged as an unlikely folk hero, reserve Edwin Ríos deposited a down-the-middle offering from Cy Sneed into the empty right-field stands for the deciding two-run homer.

Asked if these two early-season games had any added meaning, Ríos replied, “1,000%.”

In a postgame Zoom webinar, the second-year player went on to explain, “Obviously, with the no-fans thing, it’s sometimes a little hard to get motivated as a group, I feel like. But just playing those guys and with everything that went on, obviously, there’s a little edge and everybody’s just ready to do something and get some wins against these guys.”

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The grievances weren’t limited to the 2017 World Series.

MLB suspended Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly eight games and manager Dave Roberts one game following heated incidents against Astros. Houston manager Dusty Baker was fined.

The acrimony between the two teams intensified in the series opener on Tuesday when Kelly prompted their benches to clear by throwing a fastball behind Alex Bregman’s head and taunting Carlos Correa after an inning-ending strikeout.

Kelly was suspended for eight games and Roberts for one. Kelly is appealing his suspension; Roberts served his on Wednesday.

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The retaliatory actions made Kelly the subject of admiration in Los Angeles. Who would have guessed?

Kelly has contributed to ending at least three Dodgers seasons. He cracked Hanley Ramirez’s ribs in the 2013 NL Championship Series when he was a starter with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was lights out as a reliever in the 2018 World Series for the Boston Red Sox, who themselves were punished for stealing signs.

And in his first season with the Dodgers last year, he served up a 10th-inning grand slam to Howie Kendrick of the Washington Nationals in the deciding game of a NL Division Series.

The length of Kelly’s ban was a source of outrage. Kelly was suspended for more than 13% of his team’s games, which would come out to 22 games over a 162-game season.

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Never mind Kelly doesn’t appear to have any idea where he’s throwing the ball half the time and the league might have done the Dodgers a favor by banishing him from their bullpen.

“Personally, I think it’s a little bit tough,” reliever Caleb Ferguson said to Alanna Rizzo on SportsNet LA’s pregame show.

Kelly wasn’t part of the 2017 Dodgers team that had its signs stolen by the Astros, but played for the Red Sox team that was eliminated by them in an American League Division Series that year.

“I think a lot of people forget about that, being with the Red Sox there,” Ferguson said. “There’s some bad blood boiling over there.”

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The Dodgers were defiant in the aftermath of the bench-clearing incident.

“I think it would be wishful thinking to think that we were just going to come in here and play two games and nothing combative to happen,” pitcher Ross Stripling said.

The Dodgers couldn’t get their offense started Wednesday, they didn’t particularly play well, but their bullpen kept them in the game, as eight relievers combined to hold the Astros to a solitary run over the final 92/3 innings.

With a runner on second base to start the inning in accordance with rules specially designed for this pandemic-shortened season, Ríos blasted a homer that won the game. Without any fans in the stadium, Minute Maid Park was quiet as Ríos rounded the bases. But in this particular case, the absence of noise was as rewarding as it would have been had he shocked a roaring crowd into silence.


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