The outfield sculpture at Marlins Park is spectacular and grotesque. You do not often see a 70-foot tall menagerie of fish and seagulls and flamingos. It is a DayGlo daydream, an Art Deco acid trip, and in the ninth inning of a 6-4 Dodgers victory on Friday, it received an unexpected visitor.
As the baseball rose through the recycled air, soaring toward the shores of the sculpture, Yasiel Puig put on a display worthy of his own art installation. He chucked his bat toward his dugout. He slapped both hands across his chest. He waved at his teammates and spread his arms wide. He pointed toward the sky before he touched home plate.
There was bedlam inside his dugout after Puig took Marlins closer A.J. Ramos deep on a two-out, three-run shot for his second home run of the evening. The Dodgers (62-29) slapped hands, pounded the railing, punched the air. They wore looks of delight and disbelief. They clambered toward the steps to greet Puig and celebrate their 25th comeback victory of the season.
“Big players make big plays in big moments,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We seem to have a knack for the heroics late.”
The start of the second half looked much like the first, as the Dodgers extended their lead in the National League West to 8 1/2 games. The Dodgers struggled most of the evening, making hard contact against Marlins pitchers but only producing three runs. Starter Brandon McCarthy coughed up a two-run lead in the fifth inning. The offense went hitless in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
And yet, down to a final strike in the ninth against Ramos, outfielder Joc Pederson sliced a single. In the same spot in the next at-bat, Yasmani Grandal walked. The table was set for Puig. Ramos picked up two strikes against him, too.
In previous situations, Roberts said, Puig often let his swing become too aggressive. In this instance, Puig passed on a low slider. When Ramos then fired a 94-mph fastball, Puig was ready. “I’ve been trying to get better at batting with two strikes, trying to remain calm,” Puig said through a translator.
He would save the excitement for after the homer. His blast thrilled his teammates and provided comedic fodder for closer Kenley Jansen. It was not long ago that Jansen was a free agent, pondering signing with Miami.
“I’ve been joking around, like ‘Thank God I signed back here,’” Jansen said. “It’s a nightmare for a closer.”
Before Puig ruined Ramos’ evening, the Dodgers were drifting toward defeat. In the afternoon, the players reconnected after a four-day break. Six Dodgers represented the team in the All-Star game here. The other 19 scattered across the country. Roberts soaked up the sun at his home outside of San Diego. He was happy to report that he had erased his “farmer’s tan.”
In the baseball calendar, the start of the second half ignites gossip about the July 31 trade deadline. A chyron on MLB Network relayed the team’s interest in Orioles closer Zach Britton. Jansen pointed toward the television and beamed as general manager Farhan Zaidi walked through the clubhouse. Zaidi shook his head and kept moving.
“I checked the pulse of the clubhouse: The energy is good,” Roberts said. “Guys are excited to get going again.”
It took a little while. The Dodgers nabbed a run in the fourth. Miami tied the game two innings later. In the fifth, the Dodgers strafed Marlins starter Dan Straily. Puig drove a hanging curveball 449 feet beyond the fence in left for a solo homer. Corey Seager tattooed a belt-high slider off the signage affixed to the second deck in right for a solo shot of his own.
McCarthy could not protect the lead. He lost command of a cutter, the pitch he has struggled to control in his last three outings, and plunked pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki to start the fifth. Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton doubled Suzuki home. After a walk, Roberts let McCarthy face All-Star first baseman Justin Bour. McCarthy spotted a 2-2 sinker at the knees, but Bour still stroked a two-run double.
“I wasn’t very good,” McCarthy said. “It was not good enough, but fortunately not bad enough to set us behind and make it a game that was unwinnable.”
The Dodgers offense went quiet until the ninth. Then Pederson singled, Grandal walked and Puig crushed Ramos’ fastball. His teammates went wild, and the hilarity extended to the post-game scene.
As Puig spoke to reporters, a few other Dodgers filtered through the room. A reporter mentioned to Puig that with 18 homers, he was one shy of his career-high from his rookie season in 2013.
“I’m just trying to get to 20,” Puig said. “I’m just trying to beat all the personal records that I have.”
The comment cracked up those nearby. Jansen let out a high-pitched giggle. “Kenley!” Puig shouted. Enrique Hernandez impersonated his teammate with a low-pitched rumble. “Eh . . . I want to hit 20 home runs,” Hernandez muttered, as Austin Barnes cackled. Puig looked sheepish and amused.
Life feels idyllic for the Dodgers as the second half begins. On pace for 110 wins, apparently unbothered by any deficit, each day offers a chance for more amusement. Puig considers himself a beneficiary of the environment.
“The team’s been playing so great,” Puig said, “that it gives me joy.”