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USA TODAY

HOUSTON — The Los Angeles Dodgers, who vowed not to forget the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal they believe cost them the 2017 World Series, put their vengeance on full display Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

Dodgers veteran reliever Joe Kelly, who was on the Boston Red Sox team in 2017 that lost to the Astros in the ALDS, fired a 96-mph fastball over the head of Alex Bregman in the sixth inning of Los Angeles’ 5-2 win. 

Three batters later, he threw another fastball over the head of Carlos Correa, who had told Dodgers MVP Cody Bellinger to shut the (expletive) up during spring training.

Correa stared at him, and Kelly stared right back.

Kelly then struck him out on a slider away ending the inning with Correa glaring at him. Kelly looked at him and stuck his bottom lip out, as if to tell him to quit acting like a baby. Correa started yelling, and Kelly told him to shut up.

In a matter of seconds, both benches cleared, the relievers from the bullpen came running out, and there was a whole lot yelling and screaming, but no punches, in the first bench-clearing incident of the 2020 pandemic season. 

Carlos Correa and Joe Kelly exchanged words after Kelly struck out Correa. Benches cleared following the exchange. pic.twitter.com/sVHaibpN2y

— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 29, 2020

The umpiring crew warned both benches after the incident, drawing the ire of Astros manager Dusty Baker, who argued that it was unfair for his team to be warned since none of his pitchers retaliated.

And, just like that, the Dodgers made their point loud and clear that two-plus years later, they are still livid towards the Astros.

Really, the moment the Dodgers got off the plane Monday night in Houston, they couldn’t help but reflect on what could have been, with outfielder Joc Pederson showing a picture of the Dodgers getting off the team plane with the caption, “Bangggg.’’

Yes, the infamous trash can banging that illegally alerted hitters to what pitch was coming.

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“The history is out there,’’ Pederson said before the game, “everybody knows what’s at stake and what happened.

“For being no fans, maybe the energy can be lacking a little bit, but I don’t think that will be the case this series. The history obviously is out there.

“There will be a rise in intensity.’’

Oh, you better believe it.

Joe Kelly 😂 pic.twitter.com/3ABJoD1FiB

— DraftKings (@DraftKings) July 29, 2020

The Dodgers say it was painful walking inside Minute Maid Park for the first time since 2017, and seeing that World Series championship flag hanging prominently in left field, almost taunting them.

“Seeing that team, even coming into the ballpark,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “it brought up some memories. When you get back to where all of this stuff took place, it certainly took me back a few years.

“I think everybody is going to feel differently. I know that both teams, both teams’ players, were vocal this past winter, but a lot of time has passed. It doesn’t change the history, the past, what happened, but I think right now the focus is, and has to be, whatever it takes to win.”

There were no indications at all in the early-going there would be retaliation. Neither side showed much emotion. Besides, it felt different, anyway, with no crowd. The core of that Astros’ team was still on the field, but the decision-makers were gone. GM Jeff Luhnow, who was fired, hasn’t been heard from publicly. Manager A.J. Hinch, who also was fired, still lives in Houston but was away on a mini-vacation.

And Baker and GM James Click, hired in February, were working for different organizations then.

The departures perhaps made it a little easier for Roberts to look across into the Astros’ dugout, knowing that half of their team wasn’t even around in 2017.

So, still angry, he was asked?

“Not angry,’’ Roberts said, “but I still believe the results of ’17 would have been different. But it’s hard to keep me in that place because it’s not too helpful.’’

Well, the Dodgers helped soothe that pain by scoring five runs in the fifth inning off the Astros’ baby bullpen, and watching Kelly’s retaliation.

The Dodgers now hope the Astros are sitting at home in October watching them, or even better, on the same field when they are winning the World Series for the first time since 1988.

Maybe then, the Astros can feel that same pain. And short season or not, don’t try telling the Dodgers the championship comes with an asterisk.

“It shouldn’t have an asterisk around it,’’ Pederson says, “I mean, they’re not cheating their way to get there, you know what I mean.’’

Pederson stopped and grinned, and giggled.

The point was made, loud and clear, and not a trash can around to muffle the sound.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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