Puig off and running in first taste of postseason
Rookie phenom ignites Dodgers' offense with electric energy on basepaths
ATLANTA -- No player in baseball runs to first base and rounds the bag after a single like Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig.
It's more of a mad dash down the baseline than a sprint, and once Puig touches the bag, he launches himself almost halfway to second base. If the batted ball looks like it can lead to a double, Puig scurries to second and rounds the bag in a frenzy looking to take another base. If he has to settle for a single, the rookie scampers back to first base with arms flailing and legs churning.
Sometimes, Puig will dive back to first base just because.
In some ways, these 90-feet scampers represent the essence of the ultra-talented, unpredictable and insatiable outfielder. Like Puig, they are extremely fast, aggressive and sometimes reckless, but they are also fun to watch and impossible to ignore.
On Thursday night, the Braves witnessed Puig's wild runs too many times for their liking in Game 1 of their Divison Series, and that's part of the reason why the Dodgers won, 6-1. But in the end, what was supposed to be a big day in the rookie's career -- his postseason debut -- turned out to be another normal evening in the eventful life of Puig.
This is how Puig plays the game, and it doesn't matter if he's playing in Cuba, in Los Angeles during the regular season or at Turner Field in October.
"I wanted to give the best I had against a very good pitcher," Puig said. "I treated it like another game in the season and prepared that way."
Puig finished 2-for-4 with a run scored and two strikeouts. On defense, Puig doubled up Evan Gattis from right field in the second inning, when the Braves rookie drifted too far off of first base on a shallow fly ball off the bat of Chris Johnson.
During the regular season, Puig hit .319 with 19 home runs and 42 RBIs in 104 games. He had eight outfield assists but he also had five errors. Along the way, Puig became one of the most polarizing players in the game because of his brash attitude, and care-free style of play. He's also a strong candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
"A lot has been said about his craziness but I'll take that," Dodgers center fielder Skip Schumaker said. "He's aggressive in the outfield. He runs the bases extremely well. Does he make a few mistakes? Sure. But if you are that aggressive, why would you take it from him? He's an electric player and I love it."
Puig's presence was hard to ignore Thursday. He was loudly booed during pregame introductions and every time his name was announced prior to his at-bats. The stadium erupted when he struck out in the sixth and ninth innings.
But it was also Puig who notched the first hit off Braves starter Kris Medlen in the second inning. He proceeded to sprint to third base when the next batter, Juan Uribe, followed with a single to shallow center. Braves center fielder Jason Heyward didn't even bother to attempt a throw on Puig.
"I'm thinking I got to get to third base. I see the hit to the right of the center fielder and I thought I could make it," Puig said. "I did my job and I think he didn't want to commit an error, especially with a runner behind me."
The rookie eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Schumaker to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead and an advantage they would not lose. Puig hit another single, this time with two outs in the third inning, and he dashed down the line as usual but did not advance.
"It's great to have him on our team," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "He plays so hard and has such passion and energy. It's infectious."
The Braves might describe Puig's style a different way.
Later, Medlen hit Puig in the back with his first pitch during the outfielder's third at-bat in the fifth. Puig paused, looked toward center field, flipped his bat backward and jogged down the first-base line.
There would be no mad dash this time around. Puig struck out swinging in his final at-bat and spun in the batter's box before strutting to the dugout.
"He was doing his job out there. That's part of baseball," Puig said of being hit by a pitch. "You get hit and you go to first base and you do your job from there."
The Dodgers lead the series but there's still more work to be done. Don't expect Puig to change his approach in Game 2 on Friday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS.
"I play my game. I like to run and give the best I can," Puig said. "If people want to criticize, they can keep on criticizing."