Puig provides spark in debut for Dodgers
JUN 03, 2013 10:53p ET
Check out the game-ending throw.
Welcome to Yasiel Puig’s world.
The kid from Cuba didn’t just dazzle Monday night at Dodger Stadium, he electrified. You just don’t see this kind of thing in real life.
But it happened.
Puig had two hits in his major league debut, then saved his best for last, catching a fly ball at the warning track in the ninth inning in right field and firing a laser to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to double up Kyle Blanks, closing out the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres.
“How can you not be surprised by that ending?” manager Don Mattingly asked. “Yeah, it surprised me that it ended like that, but this is Hollywood.”
It was an improbable finish to a game the struggling Dodgers needed. They called up Puig from Double-A Chattanooga hoping he would give them an energy boost, but also because they were in need of reinforcements. Earlier Monday, left fielder Carl Crawford joined center fielder Matt Kemp and catcher A.J. Ellis on the disabled list, leaving the team with a shortage of healthy bodies.
Puig, 22, was the choice. He is long on talent but short on maturity, and there was a sense that perhaps a promotion was not in order. But the Dodgers are a desperate team, sitting eight games below .500 and last in the National League West. They needed something to push them in a positive direction.
They’re not really taking a chance on Puig. Even if he fails, they can send him back to the minors when Kemp or Crawford return. But if he succeeds and gives them the burst they’re looking for, it could be the start of something big.
“He does so many things,” Mattingly said. “You saw him in spring hitting balls into right center, hitting a pop-up to left and ending up on third because he’s running so hard — just the raw speed, power, energy. He’s fun to watch. There’s no doubt about it.”
Puig knows only a few words of English, but even in Spanish he doesn’t have a whole lot to say. After the game, when a reporter asked him what he could do to top his first big league game, he said, “More.”
That’s what the Dodgers are expecting. In his first at-bat, he reached out for a pitch from Padres starter Eric Stults that was down and away and poked it into center for a single. In the sixth, he hit a sharp bouncer off the glove of Blanks at first for a hit, then used his speed to advance to third on Nick Punto’s looping single to right-center.
“That’s exactly what he does,” said winning pitcher Stephen Fife, who earned his first major league victory by pitching into the sixth. “He plays with a lot of energy, and you saw that throw he made.”
Puig didn’t dissect the decisive play. By way of explanation, he only said, “I’m going to do the little things on the field to help the team even when I’m not hitting.”
If that’s the case, his defense is going to be important, assuming the Dodgers leave him in right and keep Andre Ethier in center until Kemp comes back.
Puig made two good throws in the sixth inning and almost nailed Alexi Amarista at the plate when the Padres center fielder scored from second base. In the ninth, after Chris Denorfia drew a one-out walk from closer Brandon League, Blanks came to the plate and drove a pitch deep to right.
Puig caught the ball almost flat-footed at the warning track. Denorfia, believing the ball was a hit, was already on second but had to scramble back. Puig’s throw was perfect, and plate umpire Mark Wegner, after hesitating for a moment, made the out call.
“I’m thinking that ball’s out of the park, the way we’ve been going,” Mattingly said. “But then that throw was unbelievable.
“With all the hype (surrounding Puig), it’s really amazing that it ends like that.”
Puig disappeared into the dugout but then came out for a curtain call to acknowledge the cheering fans. But he was low-key and soft-spoken before and after the game, pausing briefly to point to the play when it was replayed on a TV in the clubhouse.
What more can he do? A lot. The Dodgers are expecting it.
“I want to help the Dodgers win and fight the battle,” he said.
That’s a good place to start.