Carlos Correa and the Astros will play Oakland in the American League Division Series. (Archive)
The Houston Astros return to the scene of the crime. The Los Angeles Dodgers won't be there, but their fans surely won't let the visitors forget it.
As the Dodgers head to Texas for the National League Division Series, their stadium will host the American League Division Series in a postseason relocated due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The Oakland Athletics and pitcher Mike Fiers will also be in Los Angeles. Last year, Fiers revealed the Astros' signal stealing plan during the 2017 World Series, which they won in seven games over the Dodgers and celebrated on their rival's field.
Now, Fiers will face his old team in the best-of-five series that begins Monday.
“No one's mentioned his name,” Astros first-year manager Dusty Baker said Friday. “I didn't hear the name Mike Fiers all year until you mentioned it.”
Three years have done little to stem the wave of contempt that has washed over the Astros. They have been tarred and feathered as cheaters by other teams and fans, even though the current mix of rookies and sophomores hardly resembles Houston's mighty lineups of recent years.
“We're doing it with an eccentric bunch,” Astros reliever Brooks Raley said.
After winning 101, 103 and 107 games in the past three regular seasons, capturing the 2017 World Series and losing the championship in seven games to the Washington Nationals last year, the Astros stumbled through this shortened season at 29-31.
They swept the Minnesota Twins in two games in the AL wild-card series with a group of many freshmen and sophomores filling in the gaps created by injuries, casualties and starts.
“I felt like there was a lot of relief after that first game,” Raley said. “We have guys who have shown their face and the offense has come,” he added.
The Astros trained Friday at Target Field in cold Minneapolis before flying to Los Angeles.
“Going back to Cali,” said Baker, a former San Francisco Giants driver and former Dodgers player.
Baker has yet to announce his rotation against the Athletics. Western champion Oakland advanced to the Division Series by beating the Chicago White Sox in three games, ending 14 years of postseason futility.
Both the Astros and Ahtletics have played at the stadium recently. The Athletics lost two of three to the Dodgers from September 22-24. The Astros split a two-game series with the NL West champions on September 12 and 13.
Angry Dodgers fans greeted the Houston buses as the team arrived, lifting large trash cans into the air, chanting and waving signs. The Astros hit a trash can so their hitters would know which pitch the opposing catcher was calling for in the World Series.
Even with the absence of fans in the stands due to coronavrius, they did not let Houston forget.
During the two days of the series, the Astros were bombarded with messages towed by planes over the field.
“Steal this Astros poster” read one. “The Astros cheated! Never forget! Go Dodgers” and “Hey Astros, try to steal this poster!” Read others.
Baker is not worried about his team being intimidated, inside or outside the stadium
“It's more important to welcome the big stage,” he said. “We are not playing our best ball yet; we happened to win. For me, we are in the process. Things are going quite well ”.