Expect Puig to make presence felt during NLCS
Energetic rookie outfielder showed inexperience in first two games
LOS ANGELES -- Go ahead.
Dog Yasiel Puig all you want.
But know that you are doing it at your own risk -- a caveat that goes double for any St. Louis Cardinals fan who is rubbing his or her hands together at the prospect of an automatic out whenever he comes to bat.
Puig has looked horrible in the first two games of the National League Championship Series, and he knows it. But this is who he is -- a swing-for-the-fences, run-with-abandon, statistic-generating perpetual-motion machine -- and for all his swing and misses at Busch Stadium, it is only going to take one connection on Monday night at Dodger Stadium for him to be back on top of the world.
He's going to do something great before the NLCS is over. That's what he does.
Puig hasn't homered in 43 at-bats and, based on the turbo-prop speed at which he swung and missed pitches from Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal on Saturday, it bothers him. He looked absolutely awful striking out with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, when, rather than taking ball four to force in the tying run, he took a "half-hearted swing,'' in the words of Dodgers broadcaster Rick Monday.
It was a "cross between a swing and a check-swing,'' Monday said. From the outside looking in, it was easily chalked up to a lack of experience by a hitter trying to force the action, and it's hard to see why a guy who is that amped up in Game 2 would settle down as elimination becomes more of a possibility.
But what you should never forget is that Puig is not like most of us. He carries the DNA of parents whose parents saw Fidel Castro come to power in Cuba, and there's not a stage that scares a Cuban baseball player.
Men like Tony Oliva, Luis Tiant, Orlando Hernandez, Livan Hernandez, Jose Contreras and Yoenis Cespedes have added a special flavor to postseason runs for teams like the Yankees, Marlins, White Sox and A's, and Puig himself was a force of nature in the Division Series. He was 8-for-17 at the plate, including 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position, while scoring five runs.
Mark McGwire, the Dodgers' hitting coach, told the Los Angeles Times that Puig has seemed "indecisive'' in the first two games of the NLCS, with Yadier Molina establishing a pattern of pitches that puzzled him. To the 22-year-old Puig, this was just had a couple bad games.
When Puig was asked through an interpreter if he was swinging for the fences more than normal, he laughed out loud.
"It's the same swing I've always had," he said after the 1-0 loss in Game 2 to the Cardinals. "[It's] the same swing I had against Atlanta."
In mid-September, Puig confessed to ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne that he was tired because he had not been sleeping well. He did so in a most colorful way.
"At night when I'm sleeping in my house, it's God on my right eye," Puig said. "And the devil on my left eye. My eyes are wide open. I never close them. 'Cause I don't want anyone to come take me. If I close both eyes, the devil might come looking for me with a hatchet. And I don't want that happening. No, no, no."
Puig said he has always tried to make the most out of every moment, and it's easy to believe that watching him with the same passion and dramatic flair that once packed crowds into Comiskey Park for the Negro Leagues' annual East-West All-Star Game.
As much fun as it will be to watch Puig face the tough-as-calculus Adam Wainwright in Game 3 (live on TBS at 5 p.m PT), wouldn't you love to see how this kid would have matched up with Satchel Paige? Bob Feller would have reached for a sixth, maybe seventh gear trying to blow him away, and Nolan Ryan surely would have given him one of his infamous "bowties.'' Ryan-vs.-Puig would have been power-versus-power, and both men would have loved every pitch of every sequence.
Puig told Shelburne he was "playing baseball in my mother's womb,'' and it's hard to imagine that baseball will ever turn into a job for him, not a joy. He's always wanted to go to a World Series, and if you think he's going to go into a shell, well, you haven't been paying attention.
This is a guy who has been the definition of a five-tool player during a rookie season in which he hit .319 with 19 homers, 10 of which came in the seventh inning or later, and a.925 OPS. He announced his presence with arguably the greatest first month in history, hitting .436 with seven homers, nine stolen bases and 16 RBIs in 26 games during June.
You wouldn't call him a streak hitter, not in such a short sample as one season, but the Dodgers have seen him look baffled at the plate before.
"He's always bounced back pretty well during the season when he's had a couple of bad days,'' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "There hasn't been a lot of that, but he seems to have bounced back. We're just counting on him bouncing back.''
With Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp missing from the Dodgers' lineup in Game 2, Puig may have tried to be a one-man army.
"I'm sure he's feeling pressure to do something,'' Mattingly said. "The one thing we know about Yasiel is it's never going to be because he's not trying to do something. … I know he's giving us everything he has. So at this point we hope that this day off is a chance for him to settle down a little bit and get back after it.''
Puig worked in the indoor cages at Dodger Stadium, not on the field, during a workout on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Ramirez was among those trying to get him to relax a little bit, with Ramirez's message being that baseball is "not tennis; it's 25 guys.''
According to Ramirez, Puig told him, "I'm going to get it going.'' Ramirez has seen enough to take him at his word.
"He's young, everybody knows that he's learning, and that he's going to be fine,'' Ramirez said. "Tomorrow's going to come and he's going to do some damage.''
Everything we've seen suggests that we should trust Ramirez's forecast.