Clayton Kershaw dominates as Dodgers rout Houston Astros

Clayton Kershaw dominates as Dodgers rout Houston Astros
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Clayton Kershaw’s first start at Minute Maid Park since living a nightmare in October 2017 ended Tuesday night with a warm ovation walking off the mound after 7 2/3 brilliant innings in the Dodgers’ 9-2 win over the Houston Astros. He moved with his head down before subtly acknowledging the Dodgers faithful populating the hostile territory with a tip of his cap.

Kershaw’s previous outing between those lines is one he’ll never forget. He gave up six runs and lost two leads over 4 2/3 innings opposite the Astros in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. He didn’t generate a swing-and-miss with any of his 51 breaking balls. The Dodgers went on to lose in seven games. Two years later, the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme was exposed, and Kershaw’s outing was dissected across the country.

Kershaw returned Tuesday to hold the Astros to one run and four hits until he was pulled with two outs in the eighth inning. He threw just 81 pitches — and 11 over a 65-minute span as the Dodgers exploited the Astros’ bullpen’s inability to throw strikes. He recorded six strikeouts without a walk. He produced seven whiffs, six with breaking balls.

Two other members of the 2017 team gave Kershaw more than enough run support. First, Justin Turner clubbed a two-run home run off former Dodger Zack Greinke in the fourth inning for his first extra-base hit since May 8. Two innings later, Chris Taylor lofted a two-out, two-run bloop single to center field to double the lead as the Dodgers (30-18) collected their eighth straight win and 12th in 13 games. The Astros (26-22) have lost four consecutive games.

If there were any doubts about whether the Dodgers traveled to Houston still holding a grudge, Turner’s Instagram account provided the answer. Hours before first pitch, the Dodgers third baseman posted a photo of himself at Minute Maid Park standing in front of a trash receptacle with an Astros logo on it. Mookie Betts stood behind him with a smile.

“Comments welcomed!!” the caption reads.

Austin Barnes was also on that 2017 team. He tried downplaying the emotions in a video conference call with reporters before the game. He repeated that it’s in the past and “you just move on.” Yet Barnes admitted “it’ll always be something weird there.” He said he’ll never forgive the Astros for their cheating. He sounded like someone still angry about it.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get over it,” Barnes said.

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw receives a standing ovation from fans as he leaves the game in the eighth inning.

(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

The Astros had a man in an astronaut suit introduce the home team before the game. He referred to the club as the 2017 World Series champions, prompting a mix of cheers and boos. The boos derived from the pockets of Dodgers fans in attendance sprinkled throughout the packed ballpark.

The anticipated matchup coincidentally doubled as the first game the Dodgers played at a stadium cleared to be filled to maximum capacity since Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS at Dodger Stadium. On Tuesday, 34,443 people crammed into the stands; not quite a sellout of the 41,000-seat venue but more than enough to amplify the intensity.

This wasn’t the first time the teams clashed in Houston since the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme surfaced. The teams met at an empty Minute Maid Park for two games last season. Tensions unsurprisingly flared. Joe Kelly threw behind Alex Bregman. Carlos Correa got mad and benches cleared. Kelly made a pouty face, became a Los Angeles folk hero and was suspended. The Dodgers swept a pair and didn’t look back.

Nearly a year later, Kelly, who wasn’t on the 2017 Dodgers, takes pride in becoming the face for Astros revulsion in the baseball universe.

“It’s just being real,” Kelly said before Tuesday’s game. “People are pretty fake nowadays so a lot of people that talk [stuff] online wouldn’t do it in person. Usually, they hide behind a computer. Same guy would probably be like, ‘Oh, let me get your autograph.’ But whatever”

Kelly later relieved Kershaw in the eighth inning, setting the stage for possible fireworks. He was received with a hearty blend of cheers and jeers. But emotions on the field were held in check. Kelly got José Altuve to ground out to third to end the inning and exited without a pout.

Short hops

Cody Bellinger (fibula) played center field and went one for five with a home run on rehab assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Bellinger has two homers in four games for Oklahoma City. He’s three for 16 overall. …Zach McKinstry (oblique) played left field and went three for four with a walk. He’s four for 12 in four games for Oklahoma City. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he expects Bellinger and McKinstry to join the Dodgers this weekend. … Brusdar Graterol (forearm) threw a bullpen session Tuesday. Roberts said he is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Oklahoma City on Friday. …Roberts said Tony Gonsolin (shoulder) will start for Oklahoma City on Friday.

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