Before he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers during this past offseason, Joe Kelly was someone the fanbase not only was very familiar with but also despised.
He had just dominated the Dodgers out of the bullpen to help the Boston Red Sox to a World Series championship, but before then the right-hander also played a crucial role in the 2013 National League Championship Series as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation.
Kelly, a young Cardinals pitcher at the time, took the mound for Game 1 of the series opposite Zack Greinke. In the first inning, Kelly drilled Hanley Ramirez –the Dodgers’ best hitter at the time — with a fastball, breaking two of the shortstop’s ribs and crippling him for the rest of the series.
The Dodgers fell into a 2-0 deficit but won two out of three at home to force a Game 6 in St. Louis. Kelly had taken the loss in Game 5, but he still had an impact on the series when he and Scott Van Slyke engaged in a standoff game of chicken after the national anthem.
Both players refused to go back and take their seat in the dugout after the anthem was sung, creating a lighthearted, memorable moment before the Cardinals blew out the Dodgers to clinch the series.
The incident seemed spontaneous but had its roots in something Kelly had been doing for months to get the attention of then-Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, as he recently told SportsNet LA:
“That was one of the things I’d done the entire season; Mike Matheny was a big believer of having everybody on the line. I wasn’t making a mockery of the anthem but I was kind of toying with Mike Matheny, making sure he saw me. So I did a thing where we’d get on the line and when the anthem was over, I’d be the last guy standing all throughout the season, just so Mike could see me. I’d go in the dugout, celebrate, tell my teammates, ‘Look it! We already beat them. I was the last one standing, we already won this game. They didn’t even want to stand out there.’ Just pumping guys up, yelling at them. So it became a thing, and I think Scottie saw it one of the games in the playoffs and went out there and held his ground and challenged me. I thought nobody would ever pay attention to me just standing there longer than everyone else, and obviously someone saw. That was one of the weirder moments in all of baseball, that’s for sure. Especially in the playoffs with the game meaning so much. It was one of those things that was just kind of spur of the moment. It ended up sparking an internet sensation of Minor Leaguers doing it, college players doing it, other big leaguers doing it, so it was pretty cool to see.”
The 2013 NLCS would spark plenty of other off-the-field storylines as well. The Cardinals, with an old-school mentality imposed by Matheny, publicly criticized the Dodgers’ more flashy style led by Hispanic and Latin American players like Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez.
Furthermore, Clayton Kershaw’s implosion in the deciding Game 6 would start bringing scrutiny to his postseason performance, something that he has dealt with ever since.