PHOENIX — Like everyone who’s seen the Yasiel Puig play, Arizona catcher Miguel Montero sees and admires the athleticism of the Dodgers rookie phenom.
Montero also sees an attitude that needs refining.
“Does he have talent? Of course. It’d be really bad if he wasted it doing the stupid things he is doing now,” Montero said before the Diamondbacks hosted the Dodgers on Wednesday night.
“If he’s my teammate, (I’m) probably trying to help him not be hated in the major leagues. That’s where he’s going right now, creating a bad reputation throughout the league.”
It clear that Puig will continue to be a flashpoint in the simmering antipathy between these two teams, which are battling for the top spot in the NL West.
That animosity came to a head last month with a bench-clearing brawl in which Puig played a supporting role by throwing a couple of haymakers after being hit by a pitch in the head earlier in the game. The fracas resulted in the suspensions of five players, both managers and one coach.
And even though both teams have pledged to play nice in their remaining head-to-head matchups, the bad blood doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon.
Case in point, the second post-brawl meeting between the two teams on Tuesday. The Dodgers had their way with the D-backs for the second consecutive night, winning 6-1 to close the gap in the standings to 2½. L.A. broke the game open in the fifth inning — going up 4-0 on Adrian Gonzalez’s bases-loaded fly ball to the warning track in center field that Adam Eaton dropped after he stumbled and fell.
Ricky Nolasco and Carl Crawford scored on the error, and Puig, who was on first base, tried to follow Crawford home, running through a stop sign from third-base coach Tim Wallach. The throw to the plate was well ahead of Puig, and the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was tagged out after what appeared to be a half-hearted attempt to run through Montero.
After the game, Montero said he understood Puig’s charge but did not appreciate a stare Puig threw back after the play. Montero responded by wagging his finger in Dikembe Mutombo fashion.
“You don’t need to look at me if you get out,” Montero said. “That’s it. I’m not starting anything. He’s looking at me, like, I don’t know … He was out. That’s all I care. The damage was already done.
“I think it’s just the way the kid plays. Other guys are taking it the wrong way, maybe. Maybe not. It seems like sometimes he might get in trouble, not with the D-backs, but with somebody else.”
At the very least, Puig has certainly captured the Diamondbacks’ attention, as he’s done with the rest of the baseball world.
“He plays with a lot of arrogance,” Diamondbacks starting pitcher Ian Kennedy said. “He’s young. He’s a pretty good player. … I don’t know if he was trying to run him (Montero) over or what.”
The commotion surrounding Puig transcends the participants between the lines.
The Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley revealed Wednesday that Puig gave the cold shoulder to D-backs legend Luis Gonzalez when the 2001 World Series hero, who has Cuban heritage, approached Puig while he was waiting his turn at the batting cage on Tuesday.
“I wanted to say hi to Puig because my family is from Cuba,” Gonzalez explained later in the day on the Diamondbacks flagship radio stationArizona Sports 620.
“I didn’t expect him to know who I was — that’s why I introduced myself as Luis Gonzalez,” he said. “I just tried to shrug it off and walk away, and (Dodgers batting coach) Mark McGwire saw it a different way and proceeded to tell him something.”
Gonzalez, who holds a position in the Diamondbacks front office, was known as one of the game’s more congenial players, and while not directly criticizing Puig, Gonzalez noted in a roundabout way that the rising star perhaps doesn’t fully appreciate the position he’s in.
“To me, it’s all about integrity and how you carry yourself around people, and I’ve felt like I’ve gone above and beyond to respect the game and respect people around the game.
“I didn’t expect him to know who I was, but I was around a big league cage, I was talking to two of his coaches and I just went over and said something very briefly to him. I wasn’t asking him to sign baseballs or take a picture with me or anything like that. I just thought we had a common bond because of where my family is from and where he’s from.”
Gonzalez was asked if Puig’s attitude could rub people the wrong way.
“I think it’s already starting,” Gonzalez said. “When you play with him it’s great. But when you’re on the other team or a fan on the other side, and you have to see this act every night, it gets tiring after a while.
“In old-school baseball, that would have been taken care of already. But today with suspensions and fines and things like that, people have to be a little more cautious.”
On the flip side, Puig’s hard-charging approach received an endorsement from an unlikely source: D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, who had a similarly aggressive demeanor when he played.
“The play he tried like that, I have no problem with that at all,” said Gibson, who played three of his 17 seasons for the Dodgers . “I think I tried that seven or eight times myself.
“He’s just playing. For people to say he doesn’t know any better, why would he know better? How much baseball has he played? He hasn’t been in the major leagues that long. He hasn’t been in the country that long. Give him a break. He’s not Mickey Mantle yet.
“He’s kicking everybody’s ass, so some people are jealous. They’re going to pop off on him. I’m just thinking about how am I going to get this guy out tonight. I’m not offended by any of that. I think the way he plays is awesome.”
Gibson said he did believe Puig attempted to smash into Montero, but that was OK, too.
“He’s big. He’s fast. That’s one of his strengths,” Gibson said. “If somebody is in his way, he should try to run him over, so the next guy who tries to think about holding onto the ball … I mean, that’s what I would do. The next guy is going to know that is going to happen. It’s legal.”
Gibson recalled the time he bowled over Kansas City catcher Pat Borders while with Detroit in 1995. Photos show Gibson’s right forearm catching a ducking Borders on the right side of the face.
“It was fun. We both had a good time,” Gibson said.
As for perspective from the other dugout, L.A. manager Don Mattingly said the irritant factor is not unique to Puig.
“Honestly, there are guys on every team that irritate you. They have a few over there, too,” Mattingly said, laughing when asked to identify them.
“I played with Rickey Henderson, and Rickey was a guy who irritated a lot of people. Pretty good player. At the end of the day, we want to help (Puig) be a professional as much as we can. But also, he is a 22-year old who loves playing. Comes from a different country. Plays with a flair. I don’t want to try to take that aggressiveness away from him.”