LOS ANGELES -- How can a .254 hitter with 43 RBIs at this point in the season be a potential game-changer in October?
When he's Yasiel Puig, as he showed Wednesday night in the Dodgers' 9-3 win over the Giants that cut the magic number to win the National League West to five.
Puig slugged a three-run homer, made a dazzling, over-the-shoulder running catch, nearly threw a baserunner out at the plate and generally resumed his tormenting of the Giants in the finale of a series that opened with the outfielder making San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner come unglued just by looking at him.
"That's the guy we all know he can be," said third baseman Justin Turner. "He has the potential to be a game-changer. He's an exciting player on both sides of the ball. When he's confident, having fun, playing the game the right way, he makes a big difference. That's why we all wanted him back in September. He can be a key player for us."
He wasn't in the first half of the season, but Puig has responded to an August demotion to Triple-A like it was the wake-up call management intended. Teammates have noticed, and even Puig noticed how they came to his defense Monday night when Bumgarner told Puig not to look at him and the benches cleared.
"I really appreciate the way the team welcomed me since my return, and I try to show I'm grateful for the opportunity," said Puig. "It was nice for them to wait for me after the catch."
The Dodgers were comfortably ahead in the fourth inning, 8-2, when Puig outran Joe Panik's liner, leaping to make the catch on the warning track and stopping his momentum with a one-foot climb against the out-of-town scoreboard.
"It starts with the buy in, the unselfishness, and he talks about being a better teammate," manager Dave Roberts said. "He's not in the lineup every day, so there are sacrifices. But he's in a good place mentally. For him to get rewarded, to see teammates embrace him, that feels good. You see something happen you didn't instigate, to see the team come to your defense, you've got to feel that's important."
Roberts said Puig has made some plate adjustments. He's batting only .205 since returning, but that includes four homers and nine RBIs. With Puig's input Wednesday night, the Dodgers jumped on left-handed starting pitcher Matt Moore, who fell one out shy of no-hitting the Dodgers when they last met. The Dodgers are 20-21 against left-handed starters.
"It's nice to get it out of your guys' heads and you can write a different story tonight," joked Turner, who conceded that the offense wasn't ready for Moore's new cut fastball when he beat them Aug. 25.
"There's been a lot of talk about us against left-handed pitching," said Roberts. "It was good for us to break out. Confidence from our guys hasn't wavered, but for us to break out against a left-hander, definitely adds to the confidence of our guys."