July 29 (UPI) -- Major League Baseball gave Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly an eight-game suspension Wednesday for his role in a benches-clearing incident with the Houston Astros a day earlier.
Under the league's current 60-game format, an eight-game suspension would account for more than 13% of this year's schedule. Kelly has elected to appeal his eight-game ban.
The Astros and Dodgers jumped out of their respective dugouts and had a socially-distant altercation after Kelly appeared to intentionally throw pitches at multiple Astros hitters Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The testy clash was a rematch of the 2017 World Series. The Astros won the title that year, aided by a sign-stealing scheme, which the team was punished for in January.
The Dodgers hadn't played a game in Houston since that championship series nearly three years ago.
"It's something they apparently didn't take to kindly too," Kelly said of his throws after the team's 5-2 win at Minute Maid Park.
Several Dodgers players -- along with many others from around the league -- criticized Houston's punishment by Major League Baseball as insufficient and the Astros themselves for a lack of remorse for the scheme.
MLB warned teams against throwing pitches at Astros players this season as a way to retaliate.
Kelly was a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2017 when they lost in the American League Divisional Series against the Astros, three games to one. Houston then defeated the New York Yankees in the ALCS to advance to the World Series.
On Tuesday, Kelly denied that he intended to hit any of the Astros players. He also said he didn't take any motivation from the 2017 playoffs, noting that his Red Sox team beat the Astros in the 2018 postseason before ultimately winning the World Series that year. The 2018 Red Sox also have been disciplined for sign-stealing.
Kelly entered Tuesday's game in the bottom of the sixth inning. He first settled in against Astros star second baseman Jose Altuve, the 2017 American League MVP. Altuve popped up the first pitch for an out before Alex Bregman walked to the plate.
Kelly threw three pitches for balls before he tossed a 96.4-mph fastball directly toward Bregman's head. The Astros third baseman had to duck to dodge the pitch, which made a loud sound when it hit the backstop.
"When you throw a 3-0 fastball over a guy's head, now you're flirting with ending his career," Baker said.
Astros outfielder Michael Brantley hit into a force out before Kelly issued another walk to Yuli Gurriel. All of Kelly's pitches to Gurriel were well above the strike zone.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa then stepped into the box to face the hard-throwing right-handed relief pitcher. Kelly's first pitch was an 87-mph knuckle-curveball that also went toward the shortstop's head. Correa fell to the ground to avoid the pitch and Kelly pitched another inside knuckle-curveball before he evened the count at 2-2.
Kelly threw an 88.6-mph knuckle-curveball to strike out Correa with his sixth pitch, and then stuck out his tongue at Correa. The Dodgers pitcher and Astros infielder also exchanged words.
Correa walked toward the Dodgers dugout as players from both teams met to the left of home plate. Correa, Kelly and other players continued to exchange words, but the teams were separated before a major melee developed.
"What really enraged everybody is what he told Carlos," Baker said of Kelly. "He struck him out and he told him, 'Nice swing, [expletive].' What are you supposed to do with that?
"What upset me is the umpire warned us. Why don't you warn him? He's the one throwing the ball and he's the one who started this mess in the first place. I don't like it at all."
Roberts said he didn't believe there was any "intent behind" Kelly's pitches.
Former Baltimore Orioles infielder Hughie Jennings holds the record for most times hit by a pitch in a single season at 51, in 1896. William Hill sportsbook set the over/under for Astros players hit by pitches in 2020 at 83.5. BetOnline.AG listed Bregman as the best bet to be hit by the most pitches in 2020.
The Cleveland Indians were hit by 103 pitches in 2008, a modern-era record (since 1990). The New York Mets were hit a league-high 95 times last season and the Astros were hit 66 times. Houston players have been hit three times in 2020, tied for eighth-most in the league.