The fans began streaming into Minute Maid Park on Tuesday at 5 p.m. local time. Most wore orange, but swaths of Dodger blue dotted the crowd. By first pitch, 34,443 people were in attendance. It was well short of a sellout for the 41,000-seat ballpark, but the energy was different for the Dodgers’ first game in a stadium cleared to admit maximum capacity since the 2019 National League Division Series.
“It’s about time,” Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly said before the game. “I think every stadium should be like that. If people are comfortable coming, let them come. Don’t deprive the people of seeing Mookie Betts and Pujols and Bellinger and Kershaw and Bauer and Price and so on. It’s a shame we have to waste it with all these rules and technicalities. If people are vaccinated and want to come take the risk, let them.”
Kelly, of course, was a lightning rod for emotion Tuesday in his first showing in Houston since sparking a benches-clearing kerfuffle last July. The Astros faithful booed him. The Dodgers fans cheered him. The mixed feelings were on display when he was summoned to relieve Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ 9-2 win. Kelly entered to face José Altuve and induced a groundout to end the inning without a confrontation.
“It was really cool seeing how well the Dodger fans traveled and how loud they were and we definitely felt them.”
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner
“I didn’t know Joe was coming in, but it got a little bit loud when he came in,” said Kershaw, who made his first appearance at Minute Maid Park since the 2017 World Series. “So I figured it out pretty quick.”
The atmosphere was more vibrant from the jump, creating a somewhat jarring environment after a year of empty or semi-filled stadiums. Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said he and a few teammates were discussing the crowd’s impact during the game.
“A couple of the guys in the second, third inning, I think it might’ve been [Gavin Lux], actually, saying it feels like real baseball again with the full stadium.” Turner said. “And we knew it was going to be loud. We knew it was going to be energetic. but it was really cool seeing how well the Dodger fans traveled and how loud they were and we definitely felt them.”
By the time Kershaw departed the game with two out in the eighth inning, some Astros fans had left, opting to beat the traffic instead of watching the end of a rout. That left the sizable Dodgers fan contingent to shower cheers on Kershaw, who gave up one run over 7 2/3 innings.
“So cool. So cool,” Kershaw said. “Yeah, down that right-field line, but they were really sprinkled in all over the place and it was just, like I said, a great atmosphere tonight. It was really special to see that many Dodger fans there. And everything that’s happened in the past has affected them just like it’s affected us too. So you can feel it in the way they cheer and the way they go about it and it was a good feeling tonight to have them there.”
More of the same is expected Wednesday when Trevor Bauer takes the mound for the Dodgers. Bauer wasn’t on the 2017 Dodgers, but he has his own history with the Astros, having repeatedly criticized the organization publicly — first accusing the Astros of doctoring baseballs, then calling them “hypocrites” and “cheaters” when their sign-stealing scheme was exposed. He’ll pitch opposite right-hander Luis Garcia with the Dodgers’ eight-game winning streak on the line.
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