If two pitches thrown at consecutive Houston Astros stars weren't enough to get tempers flaring, Joe Kelly's mouth apparently made sure to finish the job.
Following Tuesday's brief benches-clearing brouhaha between the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston manager Dusty Baker said Kelly, the L.A. reliever, shouted at shortstop Carlos Correa after a strikeout, causing both teams to come running onto the field.
After throwing near Correa's head earlier in the sixth-inning at-bat, Kelly came back with a knuckle-curve that sent him flailing for strike three to end the frame. Baker said Kelly shouted, "Nice swing, b---h," at the shortstop while walking off the mound, clearing out the benches.
The Dodgers finished off the 5-2 victory a few innings later in the first game of the 2017 World Series rematch.
Tuesday's incident has roots that date back long before this season.
Ever since MLB published its report on the Astros' cheating scandal, plenty around the game have been enraged at the lengths the club went to in order to gain an edge. The system the team settled on involved decoding signs in real time using Houston's live feed of the central field camera and then signaling which pitch was coming by banging on a trash can just outside the dugout.
One of the teams that may have suffered the most was the Dodgers, who fell to Houston in seven games to lose the 2017 World Series.
Kelly wasn't part of that team—in fact, he played for the 2018 champion Boston Red Sox, who were also implicated in a cheating scandal—but tensions were already high between the two clubs.
First, Kelly threw behind third baseman Alex Bregman, and then he threw high and tight to Correa.
No players were suspended because of their roles in the sign-stealing scandal, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred offered immunity in exchange for honest testimony, according to the Wall Street Journal's Jared Diamond. While that helped the league get to the bottom of the scandal, it likely didn't assuage the feelings of other teams and players.
Tuesday's incident against Los Angeles may have been a reflection of that.