Dodgers and Astros Felt Like a World Series Preview

Dodgers and Astros Felt Like a World Series Preview
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Dodgers and Astros Felt Like a World Series Preview

Dodgers and Astros Felt Like a World Series Preview

LOS ANGELES – Bang, bang, the Houston Astros aren’t dead. Not buried. And much to the chagrin of the team’s many detractors, this isn’t even yesterday’s garbage.

The Astros have taken the sharpest arrows from a bloodthirsty crowd at Dodger Stadium twice this week and still emerged with the best record in the American League. With every inflatable trash can thrown across the field and through heartbreaking, derogatory chants (“Cheaters! Cheaters! Cheaters!” And worse), these Astros continued to put distance between them and the franchise’s sign-theft scandal. .

It was two eventful nights in Los Angeles, where fans are still convinced their team was the victim of a World Series 2017 heist. They had waited four years for the chance to personally shout so much at the Astros.

They were disappointed after the series opener, in which Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. struck out nine at bat in six innings and two-thirds in a 3-0 shutout. But then on Wednesday Max Scherzer not only made his Dodgers debut in a 7-5 win, but he also indulged his new fan base by removing Jose Altuve three times. Over the course of seven delicious innings followed by an encore, Scherzer has done everything but bring an apple to his new manager, Dave Roberts.

“Probably one of the best vibes I’ve ever played in,” said Mookie Betts, the team’s all-star outfielder turned part-time second baseman, who smashed two homers on Wednesday. “It was pretty amazing to be a part of it. I will definitely put it in the memory bank.

By the time the final boos died down and public enemies Altuve and Carlos Correa left the building, one could dream of a Dodgers-Astros World Series rematch in October. That would be great news for fancy trash can sellers, and the crowds this week – 52,692 and 52,724, the two biggest in baseball this summer – would be of interest to Major League Baseball.

“It was the atmosphere of the playoffs, you know? Astros manager Dusty Baker, himself a longtime Dodgers player, exclaimed after Tuesday’s game. “These fans have been in love with the Dodgers all these years. They bleed Dodger Blue indeed. It was exciting.

“I wouldn’t often like to play a game because I’m so far away from playing, but it was a game I would love to play.”

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With only six Astros left from their 2017 championship squad, but Alex Bregman (out since June 16 with a quadriceps injury), Justin Verlander (out for the season after Tommy John surgery) and first baseman Yuli Gurriel (stiff neck) are absent. the field, and McCullers is a pitcher. That leaves Correa and Altuve to be the faces of scandal and magnets for opposing fan’s vitriol.

“You have no choice,” Baker said of the boos that have gone on all season. “Either you thrive or you succumb to it. If you succumb to it, then the crowd wins. You have to support and grow for each other. It’s kind of a survival tactic.

Correa practices pre-game batting in the league’s indoor batting cages, so fans don’t fear him until game time. Altuve, meanwhile, hits the pitch, meaning the boos and whistles start early for him and the volume ramps up exponentially for the rest of the evening.

But as the end of the season approaches, the Astros are getting more and more seasoned. Only San Francisco has a better record in the majors. Before Scherzer knocked out the Astros on Wednesday, Houston’s record of 43-25 against record-breaking teams this season was both the most game-winning streak and the best winning percentage against opponents above. 0.500. And the Astros led the majors in runs scored (583) and percentage on base (0.341) and had the fewest strikeouts on strikes in the majors (804).

Outcasts, yes. But also perennials.

“It takes a special player to put on an Astros jersey,” said Blake Taylor, a second-year reliever. “If you’re not ready to resist the madness in every stadium that we walk in, every time you step on the pitch, if you can’t stand it, it’s a tough gig. And the crew that we have right now is very much in it.

“Every person in this clubhouse gets booed in every stadium, called cheaters, and at the end of the day we support each other, we support him. It takes something special to wear Astros on your chest.

No one has waited as long as Dodgers fans for revenge on Houston.

On Tuesday, Neal Brown, 41, and Josh Johnson, 40, both of Simi Valley, Calif., Showed up in swimsuits designed by Brown’s daughter, Samantha. A “Trashstros” script crossed the chest and “Bang Bang” sprawled across the back shoulders above number 17 (for 2017). Friends said they bought tickets the day they went on sale.

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“We came no matter what,” Brown said.

The fact that McCullers started the series against Walker Buehler in front of Oscar the Grouch and the “Cheaters” t-shirts (and more) was entirely fitting, given McCullers’ ties to the 2017 team, his fiery personality, and the raw emotions echoing through the stadium like broken power lines.

During his pre-game meeting with wide receiver Martin Maldonado, McCullers told him he wanted to attack the strike zone, “put them on their heels, I want to overwhelm them.”

Scherzer, with 10 strikeouts and a fastball averaging 95.2 miles an hour, a few ticks above his season average, basically did the same one night later. His acquisition, with infielder Trea Turner, was more of a statement than a trade, in the vein of the old Yankees “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” under George Steinbrenner.

Scherzer, who had no-trade powers, agreed to go after a conversation with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, during which Rizzo spoke of the need to “reorganize” the organization. With that decision made, Scherzer, 37, said he gave Rizzo a small list of teams he would be willing to go to. Determining Factors: He wanted to stay in the National League for the remainder of the season because of his hitting familiarity, and he wanted to run for a contender in the hot weather.

The encore, he said, was the first of his career, “a cool moment and one that I will never forget.” It was pitcher Clayton Kershaw who pushed him out of the dugout, telling Scherzer to give fans “what they want.”

“At that point the crowd was going crazy and I wanted to go for a walk to enjoy what they did,” Scherzer said. “They brought incredible energy tonight, and it’s fun to throw in front. You live for it.

While the Dodgers will let the fans speak, there is no doubt that the contempt between these teams is genuine. In May, when the Dodgers visited Houston, Justin Turner posted a photo to Instagram in which he posed in front of a trash can in Minute Maid Park with Betts nearby. The caption read: “Comments welcome !!”

Then, Houston was conspicuously absent at the All-Star Game in Denver last month. All four Astros named to the American League squad were scratches, with many outsiders concluding that Altuve, Correa, outfielder Michael Brantley and closest Ryan Pressly just didn’t want to risk embarrassing situations with their AL teammates.

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“Four guys all accept an All-Star Game pass?” I think that surprised everyone, ”said Roberts, who was the skipper of the National League this week, while noting that one of his players, Betts, was also scratched to treat an injury.

Pitcher Joe Kelly, who wasn’t with the Dodgers when they lost the 2017 World Series, called the Astros “snitches and rats” last year, threw behind Correa in September, then laughed at Correa with a pouting face, which spurred a bench. compensation incident. Kelly was later elevated to folk hero status with a giant mural on the side of an LA barbershop commemorating the incident.

Kelly resumed neither his recklessness nor his poetry a year later, entering Scherzer’s relief to a thunderous ovation but ceding a circuit from Correa. Down, 7-2, the Astros could have switched. They did not do it.

The players have courage – that’s what Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, now special advisor to Houston owner Jim Crane, noticed.

“These guys are playing, boy,” said Jackson, who was in town for Tuesday’s game. “They play, they play, they play. They play hard.

He added in one of his favorite quotes, which he first said about himself: “They don’t boo anybody.”

Large crowds sent each team forward in their own pennant race.

“When the atmosphere is not like that we have to keep playing with urgency and take some responsibility and do it ourselves and not worry about the crowd,” Betts said of the Dodgers, who continue to hunt San Francisco in western NL.

Someone asked the Astros manager Baker about his familiarity with Scherzer – he led the Nationals and Scherzer in 2016 and 2017 – and he quickly dismissed the idea.

“I can’t tell you that,” Baker said. “Because it’s like Scherzer is reading everything. We may have to face him again, hopefully in the World Series.

“Why would I tell you what I know about him if it helps him beat us?” He doesn’t need any help.

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