Practise makes perfect

Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax poses after the perfect game he pitched 55 years ago tonight. Said Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley, who almost no-hit the Dodgers on the backside of the game, “It’s no disgrace to get beat by class.”

Now and then the best story of a particular baseball game doesn’t happen during the game itself. I can think of one that happened four decades after the fact, a story Sandy Koufax’s biographer Jane Leavy exhumed when writing her remarkable book, which wrapped  around the perfect game he pitched 55 years ago tonight.

Leavy had just written that Koufax remains proud of his accomplishments while refusing “to exist in cinders and ashes” when she described him as a good friend who remembers birthdays and has an open heart. She also observed, almost insistently, that Koufax would love nothing more than to be another regular guy if only people would let the man come before the legend—as he strives to do even now.

“He does not disavow who he was or what he accomplished,” she wrote. “He is proud of it . . . He doesn’t speak of himself in the third person, but he does think of ‘Sandy Koufax’ as someone else, a persona separate from himself.”

Her immediate example of the open heart from there was Bob Hendley, the righthanded Chicago Cubs pitcher he defeated in the perfecto. Earlier in the same chapter, Leavy noted that Hendley’s youngest son, Bart, clipped a local article about Hendley and the game and sent it to Koufax. Koufax returned the clip autographed and included a note saying, “Say hello to your father.”

Then, around the actual anniversary, Hendley received an unexpected package. Inside was a clean baseball hand-inscribed, “What a game.” Included was a handwritten note: “We had a moment, a night, and a career. I hope life has been good to you—Sandy.”

Koufax’s path to the Hall of Fame includes that he threw no-hitters against the embryonic New York Mets in June 1962, the San Francisco Giants in May 1963, and the pennant-contending/ultimately collapsing Philadelphia Phillies in June 1964. It looked then as though among the other achievements that placed him somewhere in his own quadrant, a Koufax no-hitter was likely to become an annual ritual.

Then he squared off against Hendley in Dodger Stadium that Thursday night 55 years ago. Except for Dodgers outfielder Lou Johnson in the bottom of the seventh, Hendley himself would have pitched a no-hitter on the backside of Koufax’s jewel. Surrealistic as it still sounds, Johnson accounted for the game’s only hit and the game’s only run but never the twain did meet.

With two out, Johnson blooped one behind second, eluding both Cub second baseman Glenn Beckert and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks running over from first. By the time Banks reached the ball, Johnson had second, credited with a bloop double. Dodgers right fielder Ron Fairly grounded out to shortstop Don Kessinger for the side.

The irony was Johnson scoring the game’s only run two innings earlier. He led off with a walk, took second on Fairly’s bunt, then stole third with eventual 1965 National League Rookie of the Year Jim Lefebvre at the plate and scored when Cubs catcher Chris Krug’s throw sailed past Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo.

Of all the cliches about the mid-1960s Dodgers, the most enduring one is that they were so weak at the plate the leadoff batter working out a walk, taking first base clean after a strikeout pitch was lost by the opposing catcher, or getting hit by a pitch was equivalent to starting a rally with the bases loaded and nobody out.

The pitching win has become devalued in the decades since Koufax’s time, mostly because you can count on half your hand how many pitchers really do the bulk of the work needed to win. Koufax was one of those pitchers when all was said and done.

In 1965 he was probably lucky to average three runs to work during the games he pitched. Marry that to the league hitting .179 against him while he led the entire Show with a 2.09 earned run average and a 1.93 fielding-independent pitching and Sandy Koufax earned every one of his Show-leading 26 wins and the second of his three major league Cy Young Awards.

Perfect games aren’t usually the sole work of the pitcher who performs them, either, but Koufax again is an outlier.

When he no-hit the Mets in June 1962, he struck out thirteen but walked five while facing thirty batters, accounting for 43 percent of the game outs himself. Against the Giants in May 1963, he struck out only four and walked two while facing 28 batters, accounting for 14 percent of the outs himself. Against the Phillies in June 1964, he struck out twelve and walked one while facing the minimum 27. (He walked should-be Hall of Famer Dick Allen with two out in the fourth, but Allen was thrown out stealing while Koufax pitched to Danny Cater.) That meant he accounted for 44 percent of the outs himself.

But when he pinned the Cubs 55 years ago today, Koufax struck out fourteen including nine straight in the final two innings. He was responsible for 52 percent of the outs directly. Breaking Bob Feller’s record of three career no-hitters, Koufax did what Feller couldn’t—he proved that practise makes perfect.

Only one other pitcher has struck out as many as fourteen batters in a perfect game, and that was Giants pitcher Matt Cain striking fourteen out in 2012. Unlike Koufax, Cain didn’t strike anyone out in the ninth. It also took half a century before another no-hit pitcher struck out the side in the ninth, when two pitchers—the Giants’ Chris Heston and the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta—did it in 2015.

Koufax is also the only pitcher to consummate two no-hitters against two separate teams by retiring the same batter. He did it to grizzled veteran Harvey Kuenn to finish his 1963 no-no, with John Roseboro behind the plate for him, getting Kuenn to ground out right back to the box. Then, finishing the 1965 perfecto, with Jeff Torborg behind the plate for him, he got Kuenn—traded by the Giants to the Cubs with Hendley himself in May 1965—on a swinging strikeout.

The 1965 strikeout climaxes Vin Scully’s much-anthologised call of the ninth inning, often under the title, “29,000 People and a Million Butterflies.”

He is one out away from the promised land, and Harvey Kuenn is coming up. So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date September the ninth, 1965. And Koufax working on veteran Harvey Kuenn.

Sandy into his windup, and the pitch—fastball for a strike. He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and that’s gone unnoticed.

Sandy ready, and the strike-one pitch—very high, and he lost his hat. He really forced that one. That was only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Sandy threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard his hat fell off. He took an extremely long stride toward the plate and Torborg had to go up to get it. One and one to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready—fastball, high, ball two.

You can’t blame a man for pushing just a little bit now. Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his left pants leg. All the while, Kuenn just waiting.

Now Sandy looks in. Into his windup, and the two-one pitch to Kuenn—swung on and missed, strike two. It is 9:46 p.m. Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away.

Sandy into his windup. Here’s the pitch—swung on and missed, a perfect game!

When the game ended, Koufax faced reporters, one of whom asked, “Who gave you the most trouble?” Still spent from his evening’s work, Koufax quipped, “Torborg.” The rookie catcher lingered to get a Koufax autograph on something as a memento. The joke went past the scribes faster than Koufax’s final fastball shot through Kuenn’s swing.

The same home plate umpire who called Koufax’s 1964 no-hitter against the Phillies worked behind the plate for the perfecto. “He had a perfect game, too,” Hendley said of Ed Vargo. “Except for getting hit by a foul ball,” Koufax said. So call Vargo the only umpire in major league history to be hit by a foul calling two no-hitters by the same pitcher when he was behind the plate.

Koufax didn’t let Vargo’s work go unheeded, Leavy recorded. When the tumult and shouting dissipated in the Dodger Stadium clubhouses, Koufax handed Vargo a ball signed, “Thanks for a second great game, Eddie.” To which Vargo could reply, appreciatively, “The game called itself.”

Bart Hendley, the same son who sent Koufax the commemorative newspaper clip, looked at the ball and accompanying note Koufax sent around the 35th anniversary of the game. “Dad,” he said, “this ball is from that era.” It was, indeed—a 1965 Rawlings ball, showing the official signature of then-National League president Warren Giles.

Koufax and Hendley squared off again later that September. That time, Hendley beat Koufax, 2-1. The two pitchers posed for pictures at Wrigley Field before the game. An Internet search shows a copy of one showing Hendley to Koufax’s right, Hendley in his home Cubs uniform and Koufax wearing a Dodgers jacket over his road uniform. Koufax autographed the picture—on Hendley’s side.

Hendley became a physical education teacher and high school baseball coach near his home in Macon, Georgia, after his pitching career ended. He told Leavy he would have liked doing better in his own pitching career, but that he wouldn’t have wanted to be Koufax. Not even if the roles could have been reversed and he’d thrown the perfect game while Koufax settled for just missing a no-hitter on its backside.

“I am who I am,” Hendley said. “I’m from where I’m from. I understand he has a problem wherever he goes, he’s swarmed. I don’t want to switch places.” He admitted to Leavy he’d have liked to have something like a signed ball to pass to his grandchildren, but he didn’t expect something like that.

Then came the autographed newspaper clip to his youngest son, and that 1965 National League ball with the accompanying, handwritten note. “I’d often been asked what it was like to be the other guy,” Hendley told Leavy. “I wrote Sandy a note and I said I always responded, ‘It’s no disgrace to get beat by class’.”

What a game.

Protest by postponement

When Mookie Betts (far left) elected not to play in protest over Jacob Blake’s shooting by police, his Dodgers mates—including manager Dave Roberts (second from left) and pitchers Clayton Kershaw (second from right) and Kenley Jansen (far right)—had his back and joined him postponing against the Giants.

This is now: The Show’s government stood by teams postponing games Thursday in a show of respect to Jacob Blake, a young African-American man shot by rogue police, and quiet outrage over the manner in which Blake was shot. (Seven bullets in the back, with his children in sight in their car.)

But that was then: A Cincinnati Reds pitcher was hustled the hell out of Dodge for standing on behalf of not playing baseball during Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral. What a difference 52 years makes.

“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake,” MLB’s official statement said Thursday, “we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.”

It could also have said plausibly that baseball stood athwart the grotesquery of Kyle Rittenhouse—a white teenager (seventeen), making his way from Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where violence and destruction reigned courtesy of those who seize upon genuine grief, rage, and sorrow as a beard to destroy—now accused of shooting two to death after his arrival.

Once the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks stepped up front as the first professional sports team to decline play Thursday in protest over Blake’s shooting, and theirs was a playoff game, baseball teams who had yet to play on the day—several games had finished already or were well enough in progress—began to step up front as well.

The Milwaukee Brewers and the Reds postponed, particularly after Brewers relief star Josh Hader spoke publicly about the team considering it. Those who chose to condemn Hader a few years ago, after immaturely racist tweets in his school days surfaced, should ponder once again (if it occurred to them in the first place, when Hader apologised publicly) that, yes, mis-oriented youth can and often does mature into thoughtful adulthood.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants postponed their Thursday night game after Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, informing his teammates earlier in the day he had no intention of playing as a show of protest, discovered to his happy surprise (he’d encouraged the Dodgers to play anyway) that one and all his teammates had his back on that.

The Dodgers’ long-enough-time franchise face Clayton Kershaw took the lead on backing him. “Mookie was saying, ‘If you guys want to play, I support that’,” Kershaw said when asked. “But we made a collective, group decision to not play tonight and let our voices be heard for standing up for what is right.”

The Seattle Mariners elected as a team not to play Thursday night, and their scheduled opponents, the San Diego Padres, agreed no questions asked. “For me, and for many of my teammates,” tweeted Mariners infielder Dee Gordon, “the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously not to play tonight.”

Elsewhere around the Show individual players declined to play even if their teams went ahead and played, and none of those players looks to face retribution or team discipline for their decisions while their teammates mostly (not unanimously, alas) likewise supported their stance.

Paralyzed waist down by his wounds, Jacob Blake isn’t exactly a model citizen, alas. He had a knife on his car’s floorboard though not in his hands, and police were dispatched to the location after a woman’s call that her boyfriend (Blake) was present when enjoined formally against being there. He also had an arrest warrant upon him. Neither gave Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey the right to pump seven bullets into his back.

Wherever he is in the Elysian Fields, Miltiades Stergios Papastergios must be thinking to himself, “Slowly comes the dawn.” You know him if at all by his Americanised name, Milton Steven Pappas. In 1968, he took a stand similar to that taken by the aforementioned teams and players and refused to budge when circumstances altered the original plan. The Reds traded him post haste afterward, and nobody knew for certain whether that stance provoked it.

Milt Pappas became a Red, of course, in the infamous trade that sent Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles, where Pappas was once part of the Orioles’ heralded but ruined “Baby Birds” starting rotation full of fresh youth. He pitched serviceably if not spectacularly for the Reds but, with Robinson winning a Triple Crown in his first Baltimore season and continuing to play like his Hall of Famer self, it wouldn’t have mattered if Pappas was the second coming of Robin Roberts.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in early April 1968, baseball’s Opening Day coincided with the day of King’s funeral. Baseball would have played fully if the Pittsburgh Pirates—with such non-white stars as Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, plus former Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills—hadn’t refused to play. The Pirates triggered similar actions by other teams.

Baseball’s then-commissioner, William D. Eckert, was denounced for “calling up the club owners, not to tell them what to do, but to ask them” over the King funeral, wrote New York Daily News columnist Dick Young. But two months later former U.S. attorney general turned senator from New York, Robert F. Kennedy, freshly triumphant after winning California’s Democratic Party primary, was murdered after he left the stage at Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel on 6 June 1968.

With the Kennedy assassination, Eckert decreed no games should be played during Kennedy’s funeral. The man nicknamed Spike but derided previously as “the unknown soldier” (he was a retired Air Force general with no known previous baseball tie) proved he learned fast, even if he had to learn the hard way.

The Reds were scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals with a starting time well after the Kennedy funeral might have ended originally. Then, the funeral was delayed, after Washington’s notorious enough traffic issues delayed the funeral train’s procession. It looked as though the Reds and the Cardinals would play during the funeral after all.  Not so fast, Pappas insisted. He felt then and to the day he died four years ago that the game shouldn’t be played out of respect to Kennedy.

Reds manager Dave Bristol and general manager Bob Howsam felt the opposite. Howsam even visited the Reds clubhouse to pronounce that RFK himself would have wanted the game played. Pappas argued against playing right then and there. “Who is this guy, anyway,” Pappas told a reporter later on, “to tell us what Bobby Kennedy would have wanted us to do?”

The Reds’ players promptly took a team vote, some after having been strong-armed by Bristol, Howsam, or both. The vote was 13-12 in favour of playing. Pappas quit on the spot as the Reds’ player representative. Six games ended up postponed anyway despite the funeral delay. Three days later, in a deal Howsam swore was in the works before Kennedy’s assassination, he traded Pappas to the Atlanta Braves in a five-man swap making Reds out of fellow pitchers Tony Cloninger and Clay Carroll.

Baseball’s government, much like America’s, often has to learn the hard way about doing the right things as opposed to doing the expedient or the partisan things. There’s little to the appropriate causes monetarily as many do, other than symbolic acts that speak louder than rioters enough because their familiarity and popular appeal is powerful weight to throw above and beyond a game.

Those who think Thursday night’s players and team were out of line might care to ask what they’d prefer as a protest against rogue police and citizens alike—postponing baseball games and denouncing racism; or, breaking entire cities.

“They [screwed] it up twice”

2020-08-14 AJHinchAlexCors

Former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora. Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly fumes that Astro players tainted Hinch’s and Cora’s names to save their own.

With everything else buffeting major league baseball before delayed “summer camp” and the truncated season, it was easy enough to miss. But Alex Cora—considered an Astro Intelligence Agency co-mastermind and unproven shepherd of the Red Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring—spoke out in June.

And Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly, one of Cora’s Red Sox charges during their run to the World Series title in 2018, spoke up likewise in a podcast by Dodger teammate Ross Stripling days before his suspension—for throwing at Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, the latter drawing Astros and Dodgers alike out of dugouts in social-distance violation—was cut from eight to five games.

Between them comes an alteration of the former Astrogate narrative, and it’s not likely to mitigate the AIA stain on the 2017 world champions. If anything, it’s liable to make the stain deeper. Upon the 2017-18 Astros’ players and upon commissioner Rob Manfred, who handed those players blanket immunity in return for spilling about the AIA’s off-field-based, electronic pitch sign espionage.

“The people who took the fall for what happened is nonsense. Yes, everyone is involved,” said Kelly aboard Stripling’s podcast.

But the way [the AIA] was run over there was not from coaching staff . . . They’re not the head boss in charge of that thing. It’s the players. So now the players get the immunity, and all they do is go snitch like a little bitch, and they don’t have to get fined, they don’t have to lose games.

Kelly’s remarks hark among others to Cora telling ESPN writer Marly Rivera in early June that he didn’t object to shouldering his own responsibility for the 2017 Astros’ chicaneries, having been their bench coach before becoming the Red Sox’s manager, but also wanting one and all to know that neither himself nor 2017 Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltran were the sole drivers.

When Manfred dropped his Astrogate hammer earlier this year, he fined owner Jim Crane the maximum-allowable $5 million, virtual tip money. He suspended general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for all 2020. Crane fired the pair almost at once.

Then the Red Sox more or less forced Cora out as their manager before the Rogue Sox sign-stealing report emerged. And the New York Mets more or less forced Beltran out as their newly-hired manager—before Beltran got to manage even a single exhibition game for the team he once starred for as an outfielder.

“When you take someone’s livelihood . . . to save your own ass, that’s what I don’t like,” Kelly continued.

Cheating? They cheated. Everyone knows they’re cheaters. They know they’re cheaters. It’s over. That’s done with. But now they mess it up by ruining other people’s lives, so they [screwed] it up twice . . . When you taint someone’s name to save your own name, this is one of the worst things that you could probably do . . . That really friggin’ bugs me. I think I’ll be irritated forever.

In other words, the Astros players accepting Manfred’s immunity to throw Cora, Beltran, and even Hinch and Luhnow under the proverbial bus isn’t even close to being Mike Fiers—frustrated that attempts by himself and others in the know to get reporters to push for exposing the AIA previously—finally blowing the Astrogate whistle to The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich last November.

Kelly may have missed Cora telling Rivera it wasn’t only players who might have made himself and/or Beltran sacrificial lambs. “There has been a narrative out there of what happened,” Cora said.

Ever since mid-November until the commissioner announced the results of the Red Sox investigation, I have read many things that are true and many others that are not.Out of this whole process, if there is one thing that I completely reject and disagree with is people within the Astros organization singling me out, particularly Jeff Luhnow, as if I were the sole mastermind. The commissioner’s report sort of explained, in its own way, what happened. But the [Astros players] have spoken up and refuted any allegations that I was solely responsible.

If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that it was not a two-man show. We all did it. And let me be very clear that I am not denying my responsibility, because we were all responsible.

Manfred’s subsequent report on the Rogue Sox determined—after the commissioner handed 2018-19 players the same immunity to spill as he handed the Astros—that their replay-room sign-stealing scheme was actually executed without Cora’s direct knowledge of the operation.

Remember: The AIA involved either installing an illegal real-time camera or altering an existing camera off mandated eight-second transmission delays to send opposition pitch signs to a clubhouse monitor, where someone deciphered them and signaled them to hitters by way of banging a can slowly next to that monitor.

The Rogue Sox didn’t go that far. They married old-fashioned on-field sign-stealing gamesmanship to new-fashioned technology all but gift-wrapped for them. MLB itself handed them and anyone else so inclined the keys to the kingdom when it installed multiple-monitor replay rooms in both clubhouses in all ballparks.

Someone deciphered opposition signs on one of those monitors and transmitted them to a Red Sox baserunner who’d send it on to a batter. The key is that the Red Sox needed a man on base to execute the reconnaissance operation in the first place. They couldn’t and didn’t have stolen signs for every man in the lineup.

The AIA didn’t need baserunners to do its dirty work, though it could only operate in Minute Maid Park. Which made the scheme even more bizarre, never mind unnecessary, since the 2017-18 Astros actually won sixteen more games total on the road than at home.

Cora, remember, once made himself a Dodgers folk hero thanks to an epic eighteen-pitch plate appearance against Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Clement that ended in a two-run homer into Dodger Stadium’s right field bullpen. Now he’s a pariah for being the bench coach of the ’17 Astros and the manager of the ’18 Red Sox, both of whom beat the Dodgers in back-to-back World Series.

Unlike those Astros who met the press as spring training opened (pre-coronavirus shutdown) and sounded as unapologetic as men offering apologies can sound, outraging about seven-eighths of MLB players, Cora did apologise for both the AIA and the Rogue Sox. “I understand why people think that our championship is not valid, and it’s our fault that they think that,” he told Rivera.

I am being honest and I apologize for what happened and for the mistakes we made as a group. I understand why people are disappointed. I am disappointed in myself. At the time, one doesn’t think about the consequences. It was something that kept growing and growing, and in the end, it was wrong. We made a mistake and I must pay for the consequences of my actions.

Kelly pondered aloud whether those Astros who spilled to Manfred called Beltran, Cora, Hinch, and even Luhnow—whose administration was controversial enough before Astrogate’s exposure, and whose departure may have been mourned the least—“and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry’ . . . If they had said, ‘Hey, I’m super scared, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to lose money, I had to rat’ . . . Grow a pair of balls and say that.”

Would that make any difference to Beltran, Cora, and Hinch now?

Beltran lost a job he’d barely begun to do but one for which he seemed qualified enough. Cora lost a job in which he’d become only the fifth rookie manager ever to win a World Series, after Bucky Harris (the 1924 Washington Senators), Eddie Dyer (the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals), Ralph Houk (the 1961 New York Yankees), and Bob Brenly (the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks).

The hapless Hinch, who’d shown himself mostly as an ideal managerial marriage between smarts and sensitivity, was exposed as powerless to stop his charges from plunging deeper into baseball crime or to stop his superiors from fostering such an atmosphere in the first place.

Before you return to the false narrative of Kelly’s “hypocrisy” for scoring the Astros while being a member of the Rogue Sox, remind yourself: Red Sox pitchers catching on to baserunning teammates sending stolen enemy signs to hitters probably thought the runners got the signs the old fashioned way, catching on to and exploiting an enemy catcher’s inadvertent tells.

The Red Sox fell to the ’17 Astros in a division series but beat the Astros in five—abetted especially by Andrew Benintendi’s Game Four-ending, three-run-saving, series tie-thwarting catch in left field—in the ’18 American League Championship Series.

Six Astros regulars on the 2017-18 team remain with them today. How long before the AIA stain dissipates is anyone’s guess, never mind that there were those from the scandal’s birth who suggested the stain wouldn’t leave the Astros until all the 2017-18 players had either moved on or ended their career.

There’s little enough comfort for Astro and Red Sox fans still coming to terms with having rooted for two great teams who, obviously enough, lost enough faith in their own greatness. There’s also the distinct possibility that the bad blood between the Astros and the Dodgers won’t dissipate too soon, either. They meet again in Dodger Stadium in September.

“Just to say, ‘Oh, it’s done, it’s over with, move on,’ I don’t think is a reality for anyone,” Dodger third baseman Justin Turner told a Fox Sports pre-game show. “I think around the league, there are a lot of guys upset, who kind of feel like the punishment didn’t really fit the crime. I don’t know if that’ll ever go away for me.”

Millions of fans and an awful lot of players don’t know, either.

Five for Kelly, not eight, but . . .

Syndication: Phoenix

Joe Kelly’s suspension is now five, not eight games. Some say that’s still too excessive.

The good news, such as it is, is that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly’s suspension for throwing at Houston Astros Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, triggering a bench-clearing, safety protocols-defying debate, was reduced from eight to five games. Enough might say that’s still too much.

The bad news is that there remain enough, aboard social media especially, to whom Kelly didn’t go far enough in administering Astrogate justice. Much like rioters and looters turning peaceful if grief-stricken demonstrations into war zones, they would cross the line between demanding justice for the guilty and destroying the innocent.

Asstros [the poster’s spelling] need to be assaulted, often and viciously,” said one such social media poster, perhaps too typically, not specifically about Kelly but about the protocol-defying near-dugout scrum into which Astros coach Alex Cintron goaded Oakland outfielder Ramon Laureano last Sunday afternoon.

“Bean balls, mound charging, spiking, spitting, fighting, punches, headlocks, punches to the face hard and often,” the poster continued. “Umpires should call every pitch against them a strike.” And then we should get really mad?

Such outrage is far more comprehensible than the same poster going forward from there to say violence has deeply therepeutic benefits. For whom? For those whose rage over the lack of Astrogate discipline against the cheating players simply will not be satisfied by one pitcher throwing beanballs?

Or, by one Athletics outfielder fuming over being hit by Astro pitches thrice in one weekend and twice that Sunday while, coincidentally, not one Astro batter saw so much as a brushback all weekend?

Social media hounds such as that demand retribution above and beyond the bounds of the game policing itself, no matter how wanting commissioner Rob Manfred proved to be when he handed Astro players from 2017-18 blanket amnesty in return for spilling about the Astro Intelligence Agency’s illicit electronic sign-stealing operation.

And, no matter how wanting fans and about seven-eighths of major league players found both that amnesty and the Astros’ subsequent unapologetic apologies as spring training opened.

Kelly himself suggested distinctions for which right reason demands acknowledgement as well. That otherwise fine 28 July saw him send a pair of fastballs upside and behind Bregman’s head and—a few batters later, before striking Correa out for the side—a pair of breaking balls making Correa dance in the batter’s box.

Bregman and Correa are two of only six 2017-18 Astros regulars remaining in those positions on this year’s edition. Kelly made a point of send the messages strictly via them when the opportunity arose.

Doing it to that pair made things obvious enough, since no pitcher customarily would think of decking a Bregman on a 3-0 count with one out. Nor would he think normally of putting runners at second and third as happened when one of Kelly’s dusters to Correa sailed past to be ruled a wild pitch officially.

Kelly probably didn’t have to be reminded that justice demands a line between the guilty held to account and those having nothing to do with the crimes in question left unscathed. If he’d elected to deck, say, Michael Brantley, who didn’t become an Astro until 2019, and was the only non-2017-18 Astro he faced in the inning, he would have crossed that line and maybe earned not one degree of the acclaim he received.

When Kelly struck Correa out, Correa and Kelly jawed a little as Kelly strode from the mound and approached the third base line returning to his dugout. Kelly then sent mock crybaby gestures including a pronounced pout to Correa. From there the dugouts emptied, health and safety protocols be damned. Not too bright on either side’s account.

But it combined with the Bregman knockdowns and Correa dustings to make Kelly a folk hero in Los Angeles, where they’d still like to send the Astros to the guillotine over the 2017 World Series the Dodgers lost to the Astros and, quite possibly, to the AIA as well.

In other places, considering Kelly’s membership on the 2017-18 Boston Red Sox (vanquished by the Astros in the ’17 division series, vanquishers of the ’18 Astros en route their own World Series triumph against the same Dodgers), Kelly’s “hypocrisy”—considering the subsequent revelation of the Red Sox Replay Room Reconnassance Ring sign-stealing—was denounced almost as furiously.

At least, it was until right reasoning people reminded themselves that neither the AIA nor the Rogue Sox operation involved the teams’ pitching staffs specifically. And, that Kelly, who became a Dodger last year, might well have gotten enough of the skinny from his mates to comprehend a significant distinction between the AIA and the Rogue Sox.

The AIA involved either altering an existing off-field camera off mandatory eight-second transmission delay or installing a furtive real-time camera to send the stolen intelligence to a clubhouse monitor for transmission to hitters. The Rogue Sox’s Four Rs involved using screens already installed in replay rooms league wide to decipher signs and signal them to baserunners who’d signal them to the hitters.

In simpler terms, the AIA went off the grid and over the barely-consecrated official line, while the Rogue Sox simply behaved like a teenage boy finding the keys to the hooch hutch unable to resist temptation until he was of legal drinking age. Especially since MLB handed them the hutch in the first place.

When Kelly’s pair of fastballs went upside Bregman’s head, there was a lot of jawing about them showing a lack of “professionalism.” Mostly from people—like Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr.—who called those pitches unprofessional but couldn’t explain why illegal high-tech cheating wasn’t.

In the immediate wake of Kelly’s messaging, the word came unimpeachably that Manfred now has a hammer to drop on future such Astrosoxgate espionage: not only can those players caught taking or transmitting electronically stolen signs be suspended without pay, they lose the days of their suspensions in MLB service time, too.

The poster I cited earlier also demands the Astros’ 2017 World Series title be vacated. So has half the world, seemingly. Good luck with that. Vacate that title and you’ll have to try vacating a host of pennants (the 1940 Detroit Tigers, the 1951 New York Giants, the 1961 Cincinnati Reds) and/or World Series titles (the 2018 Red Sox, perhaps; the 1948 Cleveland Indians, possibly) past.

What the 2017-18 Astros and at least the 2018 Red Sox did was bad enough, even if you agree the Asterisks went over the line while the Rogue Sox were clever if warped enough to use what was handed to them gift wrapped.

But it would be just as wrong to compel those Astros and Red Sox people who weren’t there to pay for the crimes of those who were. Those demanding aboard social media and elsewhere that the innocent in essence must suffer with the guilty can put a sock in it.

Astrogate messages at last?

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Joe Kelly (left) jawing with Carlos Correa, whom he brushed back twice in the same plate appearance Tuesday night. Should the Astros be shocked that somebody sent them post-Astrogate messages at last?

It’s not that you didn’t expect it to happen, but no matter how you feel about the Houston Astros and their extralegal electronic cheating you merely hoped it might not happen. Even if Tuesday night was the first time the Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers met since that now-tainted 2017 World Series.

They weren’t expected to meet again unless they might tangle in another World Series. Then, the coronavirus world tour happened. When the Show returned at last, the pandemic and its mandate for extraordinary health and safety protocols prompted its governors to sketch regional scheduling featuring the Dodgers and the Astros in Houston this week, in Los Angeles come September.

You might think things are tough enough playing coronaball (reference, especially, the afflicted and drydocked-for-now Miami Marlnis) without the Dodgers having to face the team now believed to have cheated their way to that World Series title.

You might think things were tough enough without other Astro opponents still thinking in the backs of their minds that the Astros need to be taught a few little lessons in manners and in accepting responsibility in the sometimes-forgotten Astrogate wake.

You might have thought so until Joe Kelly relieved fellow Dodger reliever Brustar Graterol for the bottom of the sixth in Minute Maid Park Tuesday night.

With one out, Kelly had Houston third baseman Alex Bregman 3-0 when he decided ball four should be a fastball sailing up and past Bregman’s shoulders. The next batter, outfielder Michael Brantley, forced Bregman at second on a ground ball but made a point of stepping on Kelly’s foot as the pitcher covered first base on the play.

Kelly lingered just a little bit near the base after Brantley’s step-on and a voice was heard in the empty ballpark. It may or may not have been Astros manager Dusty Baker, but it hollered, “Get back on the mound, [maternal fornicator].” Kelly did return and go back to work.

Known to be erratic at times, and un-allergic to brushback pitches when he thinks they’re mandated, Kelly walked Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel on four straight pitches, then opened to Astros shortstop Carlos Correa with a breaking ball behind Correa’s head and all the way to the backstop.

Officially, of course, it was ruled a wild pitch. Unofficially, even the cardboard cutouts in the otherwise empty stands knew good and bloody well that Kelly wanted to remind the Astros once again that it wasn’t nice to set up a furtive closed-circuit, off-field-based television network for stealing opposing pitch signs and think they could get away with it.

Commissioner Rob Manfred helped them think they could get away with it. Foolishly or otherwise, Manfred handed all Astro players immunity from discipline in return for spilling about the Astro Intelligence Agency after former Astro/current Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers finally blew the whistle on the AIA to The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich last November.

The AIA cost three managers (the Astros’ A.J. Hinch and two 2017 Astros-turned managers, Alex Cora in Boston, Carlos Beltran in New York, before he had a chance to manager even one Mets game) and one general manager (the Astros’ Jeff Luhnow) their jobs. (Any thought of Hinch possibly returning for 2021 was vapourised when the Astros exercised Baker’s 2021 club option.)

Astros owner Jim Crane was asked for no accountability beyond being fined for what amounts to maybe a year’s worth of tip money for him. Called upon to stand when spring training opened, Crane and assorted Astros players weren’t exactly apologetic for the AIA’s operations. Numerous opposing players fumed that, one way or the other, they’d find ways to administer justice, and no official edict was going to stop them.

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“That’s dirty baseball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker fumed over this pitch to Alex Bregman from Joe Kelly. Would Baker call the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing  good clean baseball?

After Kelly struck Correa out swinging for the side, with a couple of more inside pitches in the mix, Correa was distinctly and, apparently, vocally unamused as Kelly walked off the mound and crossed the third base line to his dugout. Prompting Kelly to shoot a couple of mock crybaby faces and choice words Correa’s way.

That may have been the specific flash point under which both benches emptied and milled around the plate area. They forgot some of the social distance protocols, meaning a fine or three might be forthcoming. The dispute was bark, no bite, unless the Astros and the Dodgers were willing to dissipate the tension with some six-feet-apart pantomime boxing, but neither side was in the mood for comedy.

Baker was quoted by USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale thus: “What really enraged everybody was what he told Carlos when he struck him out, ‘Nice swing bitch!”’ Not nice. Send the message, sure. Taunt them no matter what they did or didn’t jaw your way, not so fast. Naturally, one of the Twitterpated couldn’t resist defending Kelly’s taunts thus: “Should have said something along the lines of ‘hard to hit when you don’t know what’s coming’.”

The warnings were handed to both sides after the second Correa duster. Perhaps naturally, Kelly said of the Bregman shoulder kisser, post-game, “It was a ball, obviously. It wasn’t my best pitch. Ball four, I walked him, never good to put a guy on when you’re leading the game.”

Of the breakers bending Correa, he said, “I guess he didn’t take too kind to a curve ball [inside]. It is what it is. I finally made one good pitch for the punchout . . . I pitch competitively, but with the no fans here it’s easy to hear some stuff.”

You stick to that story, son.

Some observers seemed to think, too, that the Astros were more infuriated by the buzzer  off Bregman’s shoulders than the two breakers dusting the otherwise non-entertained Correa. For his own part, Bregman merely shrugged it off when Kelly’s heat ricocheted off his shoulders and took his base. Almost as if he was well enough prepared for the incoming messages Tuesday and yet to come.

“The history obviously is out there,” said outfielder Joc Pederson before the series began. “Everybody knows what’s at stake and what happened. For being no fans, maybe sometimes the energy could be lacking a little bit. I don’t think that will be the case for this series.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Pederson urged or condoned any message from any Dodger pitcher to any Astro hitter. Nor does it mean the Astros went into the game expecting nothing more than balls, strikes, hits, and outs, considering the jawing between the two teams before spring training was cut off at the coronavirus pass.

Recall: Dodger center fielder Cody Bellinger saying the Astros cheated for longer than affirmed and that their second baseman Jose Altuve stole the 2017 American League Most Valuable Player award from New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge. Recall, too: Correa rejoining that Bellinger thus spoke recklessly.

Just don’t kid yourselves that the Astros forgot for even a moment that a brushback or a knockdown was liable to come from any arm, at any time, in any game, no matter how much it seemed the pandemic pushed the long toxins of Astrogate to one side.

Until Tuesday night, only Gurriel and Correa were hit by pitches, both in the second game of the truncated season, at home against the Seattle Mariners. Until Kelly decided to lay down the law, however, all anyone thinking clearly probably thought was that the Astros were so thoroughly roasted in the immediate public Astrogate wake that throwing brushback or knockdown pitches would be as foolish as it would be unnecessary.

Like the Rogue Sox and their 2018 Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring, the Astro Intelligence Agency wear the stain of their extralegal cheating all season long, however long the season, whenever the season began. There but for the lack of grace of the coronavirus would fans and commentators alike remind both teams, good and strong, that crossing the proper gamesmanship line is filthy pool.

Only three Rogue Sox have been plunked on the truncated season thus far. But don’t fool yourself that they’re immune to thoughts that a little extra payback might be coming, too. It may not be quite as pronounced as any the Asterisks face, since they merely used what was available, predicated it with a man on base to transmit the pilfered intelligence, and didn’t install an illegal camera to begin their dirty work.

Baker himself seemed more enraged at the Kelly bullet that almost grazed the back of Bregman’s shoulders. “You don’t throw at a guy’s head,” the manager said. “That’s playing dirty baseball.” Baker’s in the unenviable position of having to help his team past the  Astrogate mess he wasn’t part or parcel of, but what would he call the AIA—good clean baseball?

Kelly wasn’t a Dodger when the AIA’s espionage operated. But he was one of the 2017 Red Sox downed by the Astros in the American League division series and the 2018 Red Sox who beat the Astros in that ALCS. You bear in mind that neither Astro nor Red Sox pitchers were co-operators of those teams’ Spy vs. Spy operations.

Kelly was also the hapless Dodger who served the pitch Washington Nationals second baseman Howie Kendrick destroyed for a tie-breaking, Dodger-burying, National League division series-winning grand slam in the Game Five top of the tenth. The last thing he needed even in abbreviated spring training was his Dodgers and the Astros getting into an Astrogate-inspired jawing contest.

Otherwise, Kelly was a pitcher in need of some kind of redemption, any kind of redemption in the eyes of Dodger fans in Los Angeles and elsewhere. The taunts were more than a little out of line. Perhaps Kelly didn’t need to send more than one brushback Correa’s way, but those weren’t half as juvenile. Well, boys will be boys, even in a time of pandemic.

Still, somewhere in that fan base they’ll remember the Dodgers beat the Astros, 5-2, to open this series, but it’ll be a by-the-way remembrance. One that has to be rushed into the conversations, swiftly, amidst the hot take that Kelly made himself something nobody in Los Angeles thought he’d become to Dodger fans after last October. A hero.