In a corner of the visitors’ clubhouse at Progressive Field, Cody Bellinger turned to Yasiel Puig. On Bellinger’s mind was the most pressing question after a 7-5 Dodgers victory over the Cleveland Indians.
“Hey,” Bellinger said, “who did you flip off?”
All around the room, members of the Dodgers checked their phones and chuckled. Puig shook his head and grumbled laughter. On a night when Bellinger became the first player to homer against relief ace Andrew Miller in 2017, Puig became a centerpiece of viral content. After Puig launched a home run, the television cameras captured him flashing two middle fingers to a group of fans.
“People were talking to me before the home run, and after the home run, they kept talking,” Puig said. “I reacted that way, and stooped to their level.”
Bemused but contrite, Puig accepted responsibility for the gesture. He said he would pay a fine if punished by Major League Baseball. And his teammates indulged in the comedy, checking the replay on Twitter as they ate a postgame meal. Kenley Jansen emerged from the trainer’s room to suggest Puig should argue that the gesture translates to “thumbs up in Cuba.”
Manager Dave Roberts said he had not seen what happened. He preferred to discuss the particulars of the evening, a fifth victory in a row for the Dodgers (40-25), a game in which Bellinger hit two homers — a tiebreaking blast against Miller in the eighth inning and a three-run shot against another left-handed reliever, Boone Logan, in the ninth. It was Bellinger’s fourth multi-homer game, matching a feat achieved only twice by Dodgers rookies: Mike Piazza in 1993 and Corey Seager in 2016. Bellinger leads the team with 17 homers.
“He’s not intimidated by handedness, velocity or anything,” Roberts said. “Every single time he gets in the box, it seems like, I feel like he’s going to get a hit.”
The second one provided insurance when Chris Hatcher gave up a three-run homer to journeyman outfielder Daniel Robertson in the ninth inning. Jansen secured a one-out save. He was protecting a victory for Clayton Kershaw (9-2), who strung together seven innings despite paltry fastball command.
The Dodgers struck first against starter Trevor Bauer. Appearing in an American League park for the first time this season, Puig fell to the ninth spot in the lineup. As he stood in the on-deck circle in the second inning, four fans pestered him, he said. Puig later said he could not recall what, in particular, upset him the most.
Inside the batter’s box, Puig ignored the chatter. He drove a 96-mph fastball over the center-field fence for his 10th homer. Puig touched the plate and trotted toward the dugout. As he jogged, he flipped the bird to his antagonists. Caught on tape, Puig did not hide from the gesture.
“It happened suddenly,” Puig said. “It was something that just came out.”
The game had only begun. Cleveland scored runs in the third and fifth innings to tie the score. Kershaw got punished for an inside fastball with a double by Robertson in the third inning. Kershaw secured two quick outs, but fell behind outfielder Michael Brantley. In a 2-and-0 count, Kershaw’s fastball drifted over the middle of the plate. Brantley hit a run-scoring single.
Two innings later, the faulty fastball hurt Kershaw again. He opened the inning by pumping a slider and a curveball for a strike against catcher Roberto Perez, who began the game with a .139 batting average. Perez ran the count full. A 93-mph fastball split the plate in half. Perez bashed it over the elevated fence in left field to tie the score with his first homer of the year.
“I was falling behind hitters, behind hitters, behind hitters,” Kershaw said. “It was a little bit of grind tonight, for sure. But kept us in the game long enough for our guys to come through.”
The breakthrough occurred in the eighth inning, but Miller arrived in the sixth. At 6 feet 7, armed with a wicked slider and a fastball that approaches triple digits, Miller is without peer among left-handed relievers. Willing to pitch whenever, untouchable almost always, his value is immense. He showed as much in the sixth, striking out Puig to strand the bases loaded.
Bellinger led off the eighth. He had watched Miller transfix the sport in last October’s playoffs. Even so, Bellinger has learned that he does not allow awe to handcuff him in the batter’s box. Facing Miller for the first time, he fixated on waiting for a slider to enter the strike zone. A 2-and-1 breaking ball spun over the middle, and Bellinger shipped it over the right-field fence.
“I was trying to, honestly, not do anything,” Bellinger said. “Maybe I should have that approach more often. He just hung one.”
So did Logan, an inning later. Bellinger did not hesitate to punish him for it.
In the aftermath of the evening, the only punishment in question was Puig’s potential fine. Puig could only shrug and await judgment.
“I can’t not pay it,” Puig said. “I mean, it’s everywhere. I know I did it.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes