Plaschke: Cheated of the World Series — and now of sweet revenge

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Fans boo as Houston Astros' Jose Altuve bats during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Dodgers fans boo as the Houston Astros' Jose Altuve bats during the first inning of the teams' game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

They screamed, “Cheaters! Cheaters! Cheaters!” nonstop for hours, flushing out four years of frustration, wailing their anger deep into the night.

The cheaters didn’t flinch.

They tossed inflatable trash cans onto the field, irresponsibly littered the grass with the cheaters’ foul balls and balls from batting practice home runs, waved their shaking fists and bared their wounded hearts.

The cheaters weren't rattled.

In their first Dodger Stadium encounter since the cheaters were caught, Dodger fans poured out their pain Tuesday on a Houston Astros team that stole from them the 2017 World Series championship.

The bloodthirsty night went bonkers.

The cheaters won again.

The Astros were clearly used to all the commotion, the seemingly distracted Dodgers were not, and Houston ground to a 3-0 victory that sadly prevented a catharsis.

“I thought the fans were outstanding … lot of energy. … Just wish we could have got a win for them,” said manager Dave Roberts.

He wishes? An entire city was wishing, hoping, begging the Dodgers to step out on this one night and squash this American League best team and all those awful memories, just once, right now.

The fans were up for the challenge. The old building reeked with historic emotion. It was the biggest crowd in baseball this season and possibly the angriest Dodgers crowd ever. The booing was unmatched. The vitriol was unprecedented. Every Astros step was accompanied by a taunt, and every misstep received a roar.

The Dodgers fans were ready. Their heroes were not.

Dodgers fans gesturing at Houston Astros dugout
Dodgers fans gesture at the Houston Astros dugout during the first inning of the teams' game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Boos mercilessly rained down on starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., one of five remaining Astros from that 2017 team. He responded by mercilessly stifling the wild-swinging Dodgers on four hits in 6 2/3 shutout innings, then tauntingly shrugging through the postgame interview.

“It was probably the most fun I’ve had pitching in quite a while,” McCullers said. “I enjoyed the reception on the way out from the pen. There were a lot of people here and obviously a lot of booing, but I liked it.”

The fans constantly lit up Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa — the faces of the cheating scandal — with profane chants and jeers so loud you couldn't even hear their names being announced. Altuve responded with two hits while Correa walked and scored on Yordan Alvarez’s two-run clinching homer in the eighth inning against struggling Victor Gonzalez.

“These fans are in love with the Dodgers. … They bleed Dodger blue,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “It was exciting. … This is a game I would have enjoyed playing in, I think.”

The uncomfortable truth is that the Astros indeed appeared to be having fun, whereas the Dodgers … not so much.

Walker Buehler allowed just one run on five hits, but he walked three and seemed to lose his concentration during the numerous stoppages for stadium employees to pick up trash cans and baseballs.

“It was definitely hard to get Walker into a rhythm with so many timeouts to clear the field of debris and stuff,” said catcher Will Smith. “That does affect the game.’’

The interruptions, the emotion, all of it also seemed to bother an offense that kept swinging for the fences and wound up hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. The befuddling Cody Bellinger was once again the fall guy, failing with four different runners on base.

“I mean, you could tell fans are still unhappy about all that happened, and they’re fired up and that made it a fun atmosphere,” said Smith. “Unfortunately we didn’t win.”

Houston Astros teammates celebrating a home run
The Houston Astros' Yordan Alvarez, right, celebrates his two-run home run with Carlos Correa at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

That those fans are still unhappy was clear from the moment the event began, in a single word from a solitary figure.

“Cheater!”

The Astros had just taken the field for batting practice, the gates had just opened, it was 5:15 p.m. and a lone voice filled Chavez Ravine.

“Cheater!”

It was a longtime fan named Jerry Prado in a Don Drysdale jersey. He was first, hustling to his reserved-level seat for the sole purpose of heckling the team that stole his World Series.

“Cheater! Cheater!” he kept screaming, the epithet echoing off the Elysian Hills, the Astros stealing glances up at this strange person who would so quickly bare his soul.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Prado, 49, a Caltrans worker from Pomona who pounded his hand on his heart while fighting back tears. “I was here at Game 7. ... I saw grown men cry. … They took this from us.”

Here’s a quick reminder about how exactly they took it:

An MLB investigation determined that the Astros used an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 season. The Astros would steal the signs off video and relay them to their hitters through a variety of means, including banging trash cans and whistling.

With the use of these stolen signs, which happened only at their home Minute Maid Park, the Astros rocked Dodgers pitchers Yu Darvish and Clayton Kershaw en route to a seven-game World Series win. In one of many examples of the scheme's effectiveness, Kershaw threw 51 curveballs in Game 5 and the Astros did not swing at a single one.

While Astros Manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora were fired along with general manager Jeff Luhnow, the players received immunity, which has led to such continued rancor among Dodgers fans.

The investigation was completed early in 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic emptied stadiums of fans, so Dodgers fans had to wait for their chance at loud revenge. A small group of fans taunted the Astros bus when it pulled up to Dodger Stadium last September, but that’s not the same. The Dodgers players exacted a bit of payback earlier in the 2020 season when Joe Kelly threw at Correa and gestured to him — the infamous wagging tongue — but, again, Dodgers fans could only watch from a distance.

Dodgers player making a diving catch
Dodgers second baseman Mookie Betts makes a diving catch during the fifth inning of a game against the Houston Astros on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Not anymore.

“Finally, this is an opportunity to give it back. … It’s all coming out tonight,” said Prado.

And so it all did, from a crowd of 52,692, disgust raining upon a team that, dang it, treated it like sunshine.

Those lousy Astros, robbing this city of its moment.

The dreadful Astros, cheating us still.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.