LOS ANGELES — Yasiel Puig could have ruined a big night for the Dodgers. He uttered one word after striking out in the second inning Saturday night, and his night was over.
But the Dodgers played on.
They got six unexpectedly superb innings from spot starter Paul Maholm and a walk-off sacrifice fly from A.J. Ellis in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the San Diego Padres 1-0 at Dodger Stadium, a win that gave them sole possession of first place in the National League West.
All of it happened without Puig, their young star who remains a work in progress.
"There are certain things you can’t do," manager Don Mattingly said. "That was one of those."
Puig lingered at the plate after striking out to end the third inning, but he apparently called plate umpire David Rackley "stupid" after Rackley tried to walk away from a confrontation.
It’s possible that Rackley might have been hasty with his ejection, but Puig clearly pushed the wrong button. A player in his second year in the big leagues won’t be given much rope by an umpire.
So it becomes another moment for Mattingly to talk to his volatile right fielder. His teammates already made certain he heard from them.
"I heard the guys kind of on him earlier," Mattingly said. "He’s a quick learner."
It certainly didn’t take away from the exceptional performance by Maholm, who hadn’t started since May 14 but pitched as if he’s been doing it all season.
Malholm retired the first 10 batters of the game and 18 of the first 19 before giving up a leadoff single to Chase Headley leading off the seventh. At that point, he had reached 65 pitches, and the Dodgers didn’t want to push him. He hadn’t thrown more than 50 pitches in two months.
"He was great," Mattingly said. "He came out throwing strikes. He attacked. It was almost like he was on a mission to show us he could start."
They may need him. With right-hander Josh Beckett on the disabled list because of a left hip injury, it’s possible Maholm could get another start at the All-Star break.
And starting remains his first choice, despite the fact he entered the game with a 1-4 record and 5.50 ERA in seven starts this season.
"In the back of my head, I still want to start," he said. "I still want to be there every fifth day. Obviously, our rotation has done really well so there’s no complaints that way. I got an opportunity and I wanted to prove to myself I can still do it."