There were so many Dodgers fans in Phoenix over the weekend that chants of “Cheater! Cheater!” could be heard clearly in Chase Field every time Josh Reddick, the Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder who played for Houston’s sign-stealing, World Series-winning team in 2017, came to the plate.
That was merely an appetizer for the main dish of disdain the Astros will be served Tuesday and Wednesday, when nearly 50,000 fans in Chavez Ravine each night will finally get to voice their full-throated scorn for the team they believe stole a championship from the Dodgers almost four years ago.
“Our fans have waited a long time to have these guys at our place,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before Sunday’s 13-0 win over the Diamondbacks. “And we’ll leave it at that.”
The Dodgers and Astros have met twice since Houston’s cheating scandal came to light after the 2019 season, playing two-game sets in Houston in July 2020 and Los Angeles last September. Houston also beat Oakland in an American League Division Series played in Dodger Stadium last October.
But fans weren’t allowed to attend any of those games because of the pandemic. Tuesday night will mark the first time they’ll be able to gather en masse to vent their frustrations.
The Astros got a taste of what’s to come last September, when a group of fans taunted their team bus as it entered the Dodger Stadium parking lot by banging trash cans and holding signs that labeled the Astros as cheaters.
“I’m looking forward to the intensity,” Roberts said. “I’m looking at it as having two very good teams coming to our place.”
Indeed, the Astros entered play Monday with a 64-42 record, tied with Tampa Bay for the best record in the American League, and 4½ games ahead of Oakland in the AL West. The Dodgers are 64-43 and were three games behind the National League West-leading San Francisco Giants entering Monday night.
The Dodgers have Walker Buehler, who was named NL pitcher of the month Monday after going 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA in five July starts, and Max Scherzer, acquired in Friday’s trade with the Washington Nationals, lined up to start.
It will be interesting to see if there is any lingering animosity between players, who had four games last season to work through some of their resentment.
The Dodgers, who lost a seven-game World Series to Houston in 2017, were furious when no Astros players were punished for their role in an elaborate scheme in which the club used video to steal the signs of opposing catchers and relayed them to hitters by banging on trash cans or whistling.
Manager A.J. Hinch, general manager Jeff Luhnow and then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora lost their jobs, Cora getting fired by Boston for his involvement in the scandal in January 2020 after he managed the Red Sox in 2018 and 2019.
But Astros players were granted immunity in exchange for honest testimony during Major League Baseball’s investigation, and MLB did not strip the club of its only World Series title.
“Everyone knows they stole the ring from us,” Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger said in the spring of 2020.
“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,” third baseman Justin Turner said.
When Bellinger suggested that Houston second baseman Jose Altuve stole an AL most valuable player award from New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge in 2019, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa told Bellinger to “shut the f— up” because he was unfamiliar with the details of the Astros’ scheme.
But it was reliever Joe Kelly, who didn’t even play for the Dodgers in 2017, who seemed most offended by the Astros.
In the teams’ first meeting last season, in Minute Maid Park on July 28, Kelly threw a 96-mph fastball behind the head of Astros third baseman Alex Bregman on a 3-and-0 count. Three batters later, Kelly hurled an 87-mph curveball that narrowly missed Correa’s head.
After Correa struck out to end the inning, he and Kelly exchanged words. As Kelly walked off the field, he stuck his tongue out at Correa and scrunched his face into that of a pouting baby. The benches and bullpens emptied, but no punches were thrown.
“When you throw a 3-0 fastball over a guy’s head, now you’re flirting with ending his career,” Houston manager Dusty Baker fumed. “That’s playing dirty baseball.”
There were no such incidents in the next three games, suggesting the animosity between players may have waned.
“I think it is more fan and media driven, which I totally understand,” Roberts said. “We played those guys last year at our place and their place, and the fans did not have that opportunity to express their support of the home team or disdain for the other team.”
The Astros have grown accustomed to the heckling, trash-can banging and snarky signs and chants in opposing parks, but they’re expecting some next-level condemnation in Dodger Stadium.
“Probably not good,” Baker said Sunday of the anticipated reception in Los Angeles. “It wasn’t bad here, but I’m sure it’s going to be a lot more hostile when we get to L.A., so just got to deal with it. You’re not really worried about it. You’ve just got to go out there and play ball.”