Back in Houston, scandal still lingers for Dodgers

Minute Maid Park in Houston opened at full capacity on Tuesday, just in time to welcome the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that seemingly hasn’t forgotten about how the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal might have cost them another title four years ago.

“It’ll always be something weird there,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said in his pregame videoconference with the media. “Those games were important to us, obviously. I know it’s a while ago, but I don’t know, there’s something weird there. It’s different coming back. You just wanna beat these guys. That’s what we’ll go out there and try to do.”

The Dodgers lost to the Astros in seven World Series games in 2017. Two years later, Mike Fiers revealed to The Athletic that the Astros, a team he pitched for that season, established a system to decode and communicate the opposing catcher’s signs in real time, watching from a monitor and then banging on a trash can to let their hitters know when an off-speed pitch was coming. A follow-up investigation from Major League Baseball confirmed Fiers’ accounting in January of 2020, prompting a string of punishments that ultimately led to the firing of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.

Astros players, however, were not punished, an inconsistency that the Dodgers passionately spoke out against in the wake of the report. When the Dodgers played against the Astros again on July 28, 2020, during the first week of a shortened season, Joe Kelly threw behind Alex Bregman and threw a couple of other pitches inside to Carlos Correa, prompting both benches to clear and Kelly to eventually get hit with an eight-game suspension that was reduced to five.

The Dodgers were playing the Astros in an empty stadium then, but now the place will be full. And on the mound for the Dodgers — facing his old teammate, Zack Greinke — will be Clayton Kershaw, who hasn’t faced the Astros since the 2017 World Series. The Dodgers’ starter on Wednesday will be Trevor Bauer, who has been among the most outspoken against the Astros’ sign-stealing methods.

Astros manager Dusty Baker saw a handful of Dodgers fans as he made his way to the ballpark early Tuesday afternoon and expected “a lot of electricity in the building” later that night.

“I think it’s great for the game,” Correa said, “having a great rivalry like this, two great teams going at it.”

Barnes is one of nine current Dodgers who was on that 2017 team, though two of them (Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager) are currently on the injured list and two others (Julio Urias and Walker Buehler) didn’t crack the postseason roster that year.

Asked if he still feels anger toward the Astros, Barnes, who is in Tuesday’s starting lineup, said: “I don’t, like, just forgive them. It’s unfortunate that it happened, that it was during a World Series, that it affected a World Series like that. But it happened years ago. You move on. I don’t think about it all the time.”

Easily the most memorable game from that series was Game 5, the last one from Houston, when Barnes was behind the plate while Kershaw helped blow two leads of three or more runs within the first five innings. The Dodgers scored three times in the ninth to tie the game, but the Astros ultimately won it on Bregman’s home run off Kenley Jansen in the 10th to take a 3-2 Series lead.

There was a time, Barnes said, when he kept thinking back to certain at-bats from that game. Some, he added, “didn’t make sense to me.”

“But that was a long time ago,” Barnes said. “I don’t really look back anymore at that too much.”

The Dodgers, winners of seven consecutive games, won three of four against the Astros last year. They’ll play only a two-game series in Houston, then host the Astros for a two-game series Aug. 3 to 4, by which point Dodger Stadium is also expected to be at full capacity.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expects the latter series to be “exponentially crazy.”

He was asked when he thinks baseball fans will move from the Astros’ scandal.

“I don’t know,” Roberts said. “The world doesn’t really appreciate cheating.”

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