LOS ANGELES — In a game in which the Dodgers played for 10 2/3 scoreless innings and set a new franchise record for strikeouts, there’s only one player who could possibly come through with the game-winning theatrics: Yasiel Puig.
On Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, with one out and the game tied 0-0 in the bottom of the 11th, Puig came to bat against the Reds’ Curtis Partch. Partch threw a changeup that Puig swung through, so Partch decided to throw another.
Puig made contact so solid that the Dodger Stadium crowd was on its feet before the ball reached the left field bleachers to end a 1-0 win over Cincinnati.
“As soon as he hit it, I knew it was out,” Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly said.
“My teammates said they were throwing me a lot of changeups,” Puig said through interpreter Santiago Mazon. “I was just looking to hit anything and I got the changeup and hit it out.”
Puig slid – yes, slid – into home and was promptly mobbed by his teammates as he celebrated the win and his first career walk-off home run.
“We probably called it every time, but there was a number of us that said, ‘Oh, he’s going deep here,'” starting pitcher Chris Capuano said. “He came through.”
After looking at the box score, one might be shocked that the Dodgers (56-48) won. Their 20 collective strikeouts were the most since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Their 17 through nine innings tied the record for games that didn’t reach extra innings.
Every hitter in the lineup struck out, with the exception of Jerry Hairston Jr. Four players struck out three times, Puig included.
“You put your at-bats behind you every single time and what’s in the past is in the past each time you come back up,” Puig said. “I did the best I could. I already had three strikeouts, but I just kept coming back up.”
Mattingly was surprised to hear the team’s number of strikeouts was that high.
“We had 20? Really?” Mattingly said. “I don’t know if guys realized. I didn’t, but maybe they did, I don’t know. When you’re kind of inning-to-inning trying to play a game, you’re not really paying attention to how we’re getting our outs. We just know we’re getting them.”
Brandon League (6-3) earned the win – his third straight – in relief, but it was Capuano who had one of his finest outings of the season.
It hasn’t been the smoothest ride for Capuano since coming off the disabled list in late June. Capuano has gone 2-2 with two no-decisions and was rocked by Philadelphia. But Capuano was masterful Sunday afternoon, going 6 2/3 innings, scattering just three hits and striking out four.
“Today I felt really good all game and I was really finishing the pitches,” Capuano said.
Reds’ rookie southpaw Tony Cingrani was equally, if not more, impressive. Cingrani struck out 11 in seven innings of work to tie his career high and gave up just one hit and walked one. The 20 strikeouts also tied a Reds (59-47) franchise record for opponent strikeouts in a game.
Both offenses were simply flummoxed.
“In a one-run game everything is going to, obviously, seem big,” Mattingly said. “I knew it was going to be a 1-0 game, I just didn’t know which way it was going to go.”
The streaking Dodgers haven’t lost a series since dropping two of three to Pittsburgh on June 14-16. They currently hold a 2.5-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks, and LA’s 26-6 mark since June 22 matches the best 32-game streak in franchise history.
It’s all Puig could think about as he cracked that final game winner.
“My team won and we got some further space from Arizona,” he said.