I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening leading up to the first pitch of Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS between the Dodgers and Cardinals. But even in the moment, I knew I loved it.
Joe Kelly was standing outside the Cardinals’ dugout, at the edge of the infield grass. Over on the third-base side, Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke was standing a few steps outside his dugout. Why? I did not know for sure. But the anthem had long since finished and the Cardinals were on the field, warming up for the imminent start of the ballgame.
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And, yet, there stood Kelly and there stood Van Slyke, undaunted, wearing their hoodie sweatshirts. Both still were holding their ballcaps over their hearts.
That was Oct. 18, 2013.
“We’re about 12 minutes and counting into the standoff between Scott Van Slyke of the Dodger and Joe Kelly of the Cardinals, both remaining in their positions from the national anthem, having a major stand-off to see who will break first.” TBS reporter Craig Sager said as the national broadcast came back from commercial.
“It was a tense game,” Van Slyke told Sporting News in a phone interview this past weekend. “That was some levity before the game.”
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If you were watching, you remember. Here’s the backstory, as told by Kelly — now a shut-down reliever who is a huge part of L.A.’s bullpen, of course — to SportsNetLA in 2019:
“That was one of the things I’d done the entire season; (Cardinals manager) 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.”
Van Slyke said he’d read a story about Kelly’s pregame habit a day or two earlier and decided he’d step up to the challenge. As the line of Dodgers peeled off and went back into the dugout, Van Slyke stayed still.
“Early on, a couple of the very wealthy guys on the team said they’d cover fines,” he said with a laugh. “So I was OK staying out there as long as it takes to win.”
As Cardinals starter Michael Wacha was finishing his warmup tosses, Dodgers reliever Peter Moylan took a step out of the dugout and put a batting helmet on Van Slyke’s head.
“I say I wasn’t nervous about getting in trouble, but in the moment I probably was. I was probably frozen in fear,” Van Slyke said. “(The helmet) was more of a reassuring thing, knowing I had people behind me. Toward the end you could hear people cackling.”
Finally, when the game was supposed to begin and both guys were still there, home plate umpire Greg Gibson stepped out in front and gestured for them to depart the field. Kelly, who was further out on the field took a couple of steps toward the dugout and Van Slyke raised his left arm in victory as his Dodgers teammates celebrated behind him. An ESPN story after the game said Kelly maintained that was a fake-out to get Van Slyke to move.
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“You can’t get in a staring contest and say, ‘I half-blinked to try and get you to blink.’ You blinked, you know?” Van Slyke said, still laughing. “It’s like saying, ‘I winked at you to try and get you to blink.’ That’s not how a staring contest goes.”
Van Slyke won the pregame contest but the Cardinals won the game 9-0, behind a steller performance from Wacha, who tossed seven shutout innings. The Cardinals lost the World Series in six games to the Red Sox.
Van Slyke, who is from St. Louis — his dad, Andy, was a Cardinals outfielder when Scott was born — said he didn’t know Kelly before the moment, aside from a typical ballplayer “How ya doing?” greeting occasionally.
“We did a signing out (in St. Louis) that offseason or the one after. We were able to hang out for a couple of hours. He’s an incredible man. He is funny. He’s goofy as all get-out,” Van Slyke said. “We didn’t really talk about the moment. It happened and it was funny. I can only imagine to be around him for an entire year. I was around him for like two hours, and he talked about everything, and everything he talked about was funny.”
After the pregame stare-down, though, that probably wasn’t much of a surprise.