It’s Yasiel Puig, lightning rod. Puig the superstar, the diva, unrepentant, flamboyant, inexplicable. Say this for him, he gets a reaction. On the field and off, he demands your attention, dares you to look away.
He has the energy of a child coupled with the talent some test tube-designed athlete. Throws balls like they were launched. When he charges around the bases they somehow look closer together than for everyone else. He challenges opposing outfielders, baserunners, sometimes his own coaching staff.
That Puig is a singular talent is pretty much understood by now. That he can offset his remarkable gifts by immature decisions, baseball brain cramps, outsized personality and almost demand of the spotlight, is still debated.
But there can be little arguing he has provided a needed spark to the Dodgers since his return from the disabled list Saturday. He had four hits Wednesday, including a three-run homer, and then walked in the ninth and scored the winning run.
The Dodgers had been playing well since he went down April 24, but they were 9-13 in their last 22 games prior to this return. They are 3-1 in the four games since he’s been back.
Manager Don Mattingly started sensing a couple weeks ago that the Dodgers were beginning to miss one of their few right-handed power bats.
“It was like we were getting a little overexposed in the outfield with having to play some guys against certain pitchers we knew weren’t great matchups,” Mattingly said. “So you kinda feel like we sustained that for a while, but the last 10 days or so we felt like we needed him back in the lineup.”
In his four games back, he’s nine for 15 with five runs scored. He’s right back to challenging outfield arms, being aggressive, pushing the action.
“He’s been really hot,” said second baseman Howie Kendrick. “He’s been keeping things going for us. He’s been the man on base the guys have been driving in. That’s exciting. A little bit of a refresher.
“He’s definitely welcomed back to the lineup and has been a spark plug for us.”
Wednesday he was only a triple shy of the cycle when he came up with one out in the ninth in a 6-6 game. Puig said a triple was never on his mind. He walked and ended up scoring the winning run.
“What I was trying to do was get on base, and as you saw, I got on,” Puig said. “Adrian [Gonzalez] got on and [Howie] Kendrick was able to drive in the winning run. That’s pretty much what I was focused on. The cycle doesn’t matter to me.”
That kind of a response has to hearten management, who’s been enraptured by Puig's talent but frustrated by his bouts of immaturity. Puig vowed a different approach this season. Four games are only that, but at least it’s a start.
And for now, you don’t dare look away.