Joe Kelly is a hero staring down and trash-talking the Astros

Thank you, Joe Kelly.

Thank you for banging hard on the trash can that is the Houston Astros.

Thank you for making sure the Dodgers didn’t get cheated again.

Bless you, Joe Kelly, for a fearless, vengeful, and amazingly scoreless inning that will live forever in Dodgers lore.

In their first game at Houston’s Minute Maid Park since they were robbed of the 2017 World Series championship here, the Dodgers’ long-bottled emotions finally exploded through Kelly’s wild right hand and his mocking expressions.

The Dodgers spent the first five innings carefully controlling their rage, then Kelly stepped on the mound in the sixth and let it all out. The Dodgers won the game, 5-2, but Kelly owned the night.

He knocked a batter down, rattled another batter into a staring match, used pickoff throws to continually pound a baserunner into the ground, glared at another baserunner, and eventually walked off the field screaming at the Astros while scrunching his face into that of a crying, pouting baby.

The benches emptied, and the Dodgers fans’ newfound respect for the previously maligned Kelly will be overflowing.

On social media some suggested he be given a Mookie Betts-type contract. Others suggested they build him a statue. Don’t laugh. He was that big.

For one moment, a thoughtful team that is sometimes too reserved for its own good was shaken awake with rare, honest emotion. For one night, on a club that thrives on teamwork, there was no better teammate.

There was one out in the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading 5-2 when the retribution began. Interestingly, Kelly was not one of the 10 active Dodgers who were a member of that wronged 2017 World Series team. He was not on that group that this winter’s Major League Baseball investigation concluded was cheated in an elaborate sign-stealing caper involving stolen catcher’s signs and possibly banged trash cans and whistling.

It obviously didn’t matter. After a rough debut season in Los Angeles last summer, Kelly is a Dodger now.

One out, Alex Bregman batting, 3-and-0 count … and Kelly threw the ball over his head for the walk. It just slipped right? Right.

What happened next perhaps was a clearer window into Kelly’s intentions when he threw three straight times to first base to force Bregman into three straight dusty dives even though there was little chance he was stealing.

The next batter, Michael Brantley, beat out a potential double-play grounder to first and appeared to spike Kelly in the process. The pitcher glared at him. Somebody from the unsettled Astros dugout shouted, “Just get on the mound, [bleep]!”

Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly yells back at Houston Astros' Carlos Correa.

Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly yells back at Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa after the sixth inning of the Dodgers’ 5-2 win Tuesday.

(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Kelly got back on the mound all right. He walked Yuli Gurriel on four pitches that included one inside, then he sailed his next pitch over Carlos Correa’s head. Of all the lame apology attempts by the Astros in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, Bregman’s and Correa’s were the worst.

Correa stared at Kelly as if he couldn’t believe this sort of anger was being shown by the ever-calm Dodgers, and dodged another ball inside. Then, with runners on second and third, Correa stranded everyone with a lunging swing at another ball out of the strike zone.

As Correa walked away apparently complaining, Kelly walked off the mound while imitating a whiny baby. He shouted something at Correa before entering the dugout screaming, “Shut the … up!”

Kelly indeed shut the Astros up. They collected but one hit in the final three innings against three other Dodgers relievers.

Not that Manager Dave Roberts could acknowledge Kelly’s inspiration, of course. Nobody in baseball ever admits to this kind of stuff.

“I think that that’s Joe’s story to tell,” Roberts said on a Zoom conference afterward. “I know that he had good stuff today, lost command a bit, reigned it back in, that’s good to see.”

And what exactly did Roberts see? Nothing, nothing at all.

“I really don’t know … he lost a fastball … those guys took a little bit of offense … the expectations going into this series, things were kind of escalating a little … that’s kind of what happened.”

Joe Kelly then told his story and, like Roberts, he was understated and careful.

On the pitch to Bregman: “It was a ball obviously … it wasn’t my best pitch.”

On the pitch to Correa: “I guess he didn’t take too kindly to a curveball … it is what it is … I pitch competitively … something they apparently didn’t take too kindly to.”

And what exactly were those baby faces? “I guess my expression was what I interpreted in my head what he said.”

Correa was whining. Good for Kelly. The Astros spent the entire winter whining. Good for Kelly.

The Astros are getting off the hook during this shortened season because there will be no fans to boo and jeer and bang trash cans at them.

The Astros will not play in front of a Southern California crowd that was ready to unload its deep and abiding rage on the team that pilfered what would have been the Dodgers’ first World Series championship in 29 years.

The Astros could almost be lulled this season into thinking everyone is going to forget.

Thank you, Joe Kelly.

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