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Puig looking for redemption vs. rival Cardinals

Outfielder's young friend won't let him forget playoff loss

LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig is really close with a particular family in Los Angeles, and that family has a 10-year-old Cardinals-loving boy who has made it his mission to exasperate the Dodgers' eccentric outfielder.

"He's driving me crazy," Puig said in Spanish. "I have to kick him out of that family. He has four blue things of mine in his room, and he tells me it's because he feels sorry for me, sorry for the Dodgers. He has everything else red -- the comforter, the sheets, the ceiling, everything. His room is red. And he says the best city in the United States is St. Louis."

Puig stood on a balcony in the 26th floor of City Hall on Friday afternoon, staring out into downtown Los Angeles before a luncheon to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project and talking mostly about how often he thinks about those pesky Cardinals, who have eliminated his Dodgers in back-to-back Octobers.

"I dream about them every day," Puig said.

And every time he does, that darn kid is right in the middle of it.

"His mom calls him 'The Cardinal,'" Puig deadpanned. "We don't even know his name anymore. … I take him to the stadium, I put the tickets under my name, I introduce him to all of my teammates, and he shows up with a Cardinals shirt. He's driving me nuts. I can't win with him. His cousins all have [Dodgers gear]. Not him. We have to do something. I have to make him change his mind. We won the second game and that's it. He cried, and after that, he started laughing at us again."

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The Dodgers evened up the 2014 National League Division Series at a game apiece, then lost back-to-back contests in St. Louis and went home. They lost back-to-back one-run games to start the 2013 NL Championship Series, and then the Cardinals eliminated them in six.

Puig spoke highly of the Cardinals, how great their team is and how smart their manager is. He thanked them for teaching his team the proper way to play baseball and said they've become the Dodgers' truest adversary, more so than even the defending-champion and division-rival Giants.

"We can't let them beat us three straight times," Puig said. "No way. They're a good team, and we all admire them. They have very good pitchers, very good players. If we beat them, we can win the World Series. We just have to get through them."

If the Dodgers do face the Cardinals again in the playoffs, they'll do so with a far different lineup.

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Gone are Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon. In are Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal and Joc Pederson, the talented 22-year-old who may become the everyday center fielder. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly may bat Puig fourth, and that's fine with Puig. Mattingly would prefer to start him in right field but may have to occasionally play him in center, the spot Puig has always preferred.

"I'd like to play just one position, though," Puig said. "I have a really big room in my house. I don't have any Gold Gloves or anything. I need my Gold Glove. The space for Gold Gloves at the stadium is running out. I need mine, so I need them to decide what position I'm going to play."

Puig was with 22 of his teammates on the final day of a weeklong "Pitching in the Community" initiative to serve the greater Los Angeles area. He joined them in the second of four activities, stopping by City Hall for a special recognition by Los Angeles City Council members.

Puig looked strong, but had no idea how much he weighs with 27 days left until the first full-squad workout.

Perhaps somewhere between 255 and 260.

"Whatever weight I come in, it doesn't matter," Puig said, citing teammate Juan Uribe as an example by calling him a "gordito," exaggerating his weight and saying, "He saves us every game at third base."

Puig also glowed about Astros 5-foot-6 second baseman Jose Altuve, his teammate for an exhibition tournament throughout Japan in November and someone he credited with inspiring him to intensify his workout regimen this offseason.

"I don't like working out," Puig said. "It's like you have to pay me to enter the gym."

But Puig did, because he wants to steal more bases and he wants to limit the highs and lows of a six-month regular season.

Coming off a dynamic rookie season in which he batted .319/.391/.534, hit 19 homers, drove in 42 runs and stole 11 bases in 104 games, Puig put up a slash line of .296/.382/.480 in his sophomore campaign of 2014, hitting three fewer homers and stealing the same number of bases in 44 more games. He carried a .544 OPS throughout August and went 3-for-12 with eight strikeouts in the first three NLDS games, then was benched for a Game 4 that saw the Dodgers eliminated.

Some would say the pressure is on Puig like never before in 2015, but the Cuban sensation prefers not to look at it that way.

"I only have to prepare myself and do my best on the field," Puig said. "I'm going to do my best, and my teammates are going to be doing their best to get where I want and to get where the city of Los Angeles wants to get. They're waiting for that."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.
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