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Route 66: Puig leads way

Rookie mistakenly celebrates homer, then legs out three-base hit

LOS ANGELES -- With a single at-bat, Yasiel Puig finally brought his exciting, polarizing presence to the National League Championship Series.

Puig didn't just hit a two-out RBI triple in Monday's fourth inning, which contributed heavily to the Dodgers' 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS. He turned his hit into a Disneyland ride, an emotional catharsis, an outpouring of pure joy, a senseless showboating act -- take your pick.

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Freed from his 0-for-11 skid to start the NLCS, Puig tossed his bat after connecting with Adam Wainwright's 2-1 fastball, anticipating that his drive would clear the right-field barrier. Puig thus broke slowly from the batter's box. But the combination of Puig's remarkable speed and the batted ball's carom away from right fielder Carlos Beltran enabled the Dodgers' rookie sensation to reach third base standing up.

Of course, Puig didn't just stand there.

He clapped his hands and windmilled his clenched right fist as he approached third. Upon reaching the bag, he raised his arms in triumph, then motioned toward the roaring crowd to encourage them to cheer more.

"It's great to see him get back to who he is," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said.

Not everybody agreed.

Beltran expressed disdain for Puig's antics, though the dignified veteran tempered his criticism somewhat.

"As a player, he doesn't know. He doesn't know. I think he doesn't know," Beltran said. "He still thinks he's playing somewhere else, I don't know. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that. Great ability, great talent, and I think with time he will learn that you have to sometimes act a little bit more calm. Not only with trying to show up other teams, [but also], like, umpires. It's going to take him time, but he's going to learn.

"When you try to do those things, you get attention. You don't want to wake up nobody. I always say that if you hit a homer off a pitcher, you have to make him believe that he made a mistake. You don't wake him up, because next time the pitcher is going to be more focused with you and is going to try to get you out, try to be more aggressive. As a player, he will learn. I don't think he's a bad kid, I just think he doesn't know right now."

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sounded like a proud but exasperated parent as he discussed his talented right fielder.

"I think he's just excited. ... That's just Yasiel. I'd like to see him run right away, honestly, because you don't know the ball's going to bounce away and ends up [with a triple]. But obviously, he thought it was gone. I've been dealing with this all year. He's just emotional, and it's areas that we want to keep getting better at. I would like to see him run right away because I just don't think you can assume the ball's going out of the ballpark."

Asked about his emotional arrival at third base, Puig, speaking through a translator, responded with a clinical baseball analysis.

"It was a hard-hit ball," he said. "It was a good pitch that Wainwright had thrown. I had faced Wainwright in St. Louis, and I remembered how he had pitched me. What was most important to me was that [Adrian] Gonzalez had scored. After that, I realized that I had a chance to get to third, and it was pretty easy for me to get to third in that way."

Later though, Puig addressed his style.

"I always give it my best," he said. "I'm always having fun on the field. In St. Louis, it was obvious that I wasn't quite having as much fun as I was really focused on trying to get a hit. But coming back to Los Angeles, and with the help of my teammates, I was able to get back to really having fun. That's all it really is for me, is having fun playing the game."

Puig said once he realized his drive would not clear the fence, his goal became "just to get as many bases as I could on my hit."

Puig, who went 2-for-3, felt relieved to emerge from his slump.

"I noticed in St. Louis I was trying too hard. Something my teammates and I talked about," he said. "Coming here, I focused on staying calm and doing the best I could, especially against such a great pitcher that they have. Thanks to God, everything went well."

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Yasiel Puig