Do you guys remember, all the way back in 2017, a thing called the World Series, with the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers? It was pretty good actually, with tons of home runs and multiple extra-inning battles. And then, do you remember how, in early 2020, an MLB investigation found that the Astros had spent 2017 devising a sign-stealing scheme that was both advanced (replay monitors) and deeply primitive (trash cans!). Yeah, OK, well it looks like Dodgers fans haven’t forgotten either.
As the Astros visited a Dodger Stadium with fans for the first time since the league disciplined them for cheating, an announced crowd of 52,692 greeted them with what felt like fresh, uncut hatred for, in their eyes, robbing them of a title three years before they finally got one. The Astros have not been free from fans’ ire wherever they’ve gone this year—particularly in New York, where Yankees fans chant “Fuck Altuve” even during games not involving the Astros. But Tuesday night felt more personal, and at times more dangerous, than what they’ve encountered before.
A lot of what happened at the ballpark was ultimately harmless, even if it was cranked up several notches higher than usual. There was loud booing, and rude chanting in the direction of Houston, and, most disruptively, a bunch of inflatable trash cans that made their rounds through the sections. On a couple of occasions, these things—by the way, where do you even get inflatable trash cans?—fell into the outfield and briefly paused the game.
In an odd little coincidence, Lance McCullers took the mound for the Astros in this game, a little less than four years after he started Game 7 in the very same venue. Apparently, he had a pretty good time pitching 6.2 innings with zero runs and nine Ks.
“I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the reception on the way out,” McCullers said afterward. “I felt comfortable. Felt calm. We had a lot of people here. It was obviously a lot of booing, but I liked it. I enjoyed it.”
His morale and the memories of his experience was probably helped a lot by the result. On the field, the game couldn’t have been more brutal for Los Angeles. Not only did they get shut out 3-0, but the game’s biggest blow was a lengthy two-run homer in the eighth off the bat of Yordan Alvarez—his 20th of the season. The 24-year-old Alvarez could have been blasting those dongs in a Dodger uniform, except the team traded him back in 2016 for some short-lived bullpen help in the form of Josh Fields.
Whether it was because of the lack of offense or simply an inevitability of people still not knowing how to act in public after COVID, there were also some pretty striking instances of scary tough-guy bullshit from the packed crowd. Fans tossed items more dangerous than toy trash cans, and security had its hands full trying to clamp down on the scuffles.
Astros reliever Ryne Stanek, who watched eight innings from the ‘pen before coming in for the save, had a slightly different view of the scenes compared to McCullers. While he said that he and his fellow pitchers were free from any projectiles other than “mean words,” some other folks in the wrong colors weren’t so lucky.
“Things got a little hectic in the bullpen. People started throwing stuff like at Astros fans,” he said. “You just sat there and watched people throw full beers at people for half an inning. It was kinda crazy.”
Here’s something else to think about in connection with these scenes: Baseball Reference currently has the Astros as the second-most-likely AL team to make the World Series, while they also have the Dodgers as the second-most-likely NL team to do the same. The novelty of cussing out Altuve and doing visual trash can gags probably won’t last all that long, and I certainly hope the anger will feel less raw as the Astros return for the second and final game of this series on Wednesday night. But if these two teams manage to meet again in October, it could go down as one of the nastiest World Series of all time.