Halfway between first and second base, moments after his three-run, fourth-inning homer rattled into the left-field bleachers, Yasiel Puig slowed his already unhurried trot to a crawl.
His ears caught the voice of New York Mets first baseman Wilmer Flores. Puig spun his head toward Flores and spat a four-letter expletive, a fittingly contemptuous gesture for this series, in which the Dodgers have trounced their guests, the latest an 8-2 dismissal Wednesday.
The anger from Flores stemmed from Puig’s leisurely pace as he rounded the bases. Eleven seconds passed between the collision of Puig’s bat with a doomed sinker from rookie Tyler Pill and Puig touching first base. Puig flexed upon impact. He did not drop his bat until the ball landed. It was an admirable blast, his 13th of the season, and Puig gazed upon it lovingly.
“He’s not the only player in baseball who takes a little longer in admiring home runs,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He got a good piece of it. I know that he did not mean any disrespect.”
The Mets disagreed — but then, the Dodgers have not been kind to them this week. The offense piled up 10 runs Monday and hung a dozen Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Pill managed to keep the Dodgers from reaching double digits. The offense still charged him with six runs in six innings and steamed toward a sixth consecutive victory. Yasmani Grandal chipped in two solo home runs after Puig’s shot.
The tiff extended an eventful fortnight for Puig. He flipped off two spectators in Cleveland last week and received a one-game suspension and is playing while his appeal winds through the system. He homered twice in one game over the weekend in Cincinnati. And he has upped his on-base-plus-slugging percentage from .711 on June 11 to .773 by Wednesday.
Later in the night, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes advised Puig to speed up in the future. After the game, Flores remained upset.
“I don’t think he knows what having respect for the game is,” Flores said.
Puig offered a measured response to both. He suggested his emotion stemmed from an intentional walk in front of him, and said he understood why Flores might be mad.
“We’ve been hitting well and we’ve been hitting a lot of home runs, and if that’s the way he feels, it might be a result of them not playing so well,” Puig said. “After I talked to Cespedes, he told me to try to run a little bit faster — I don’t look at it that way.”
With the lineup rolling, Rich Hill (4-3) authored a quiet but encouraging outing. He remained unable to reach the sixth inning, exiting after five frames and 98 pitches. But he recovered from a first-inning stumble to strike out eight batters and hold the Mets to one run.
He unveiled a cut fastball to bolster his arsenal. He slipped from a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning by striking out three batters in a row. His performance hinted at the heights he touched in 2016, when he inspired the Dodgers to sign him to a three-year, $48-million contract in the offseason.
The opening was not encouraging. On the second pitch of the game, outfielder Curtis Granderson whacked an 89-mph fastball over the center-field fence. On the next pitch, Flores doubled into left field on another fastball.
Hill managed to regroup. The Dodgers tied the score in the third inning. They did so without a hit. Joc Pederson led off with a walk. Third baseman T.J. Rivera threw away a grounder by Puig. With runners at the corners, Hill lifted a 2-and-2 fastball into center field for a sacrifice fly. Hill drove in a run for the first time since June 19, 2009.
The fourth inning tested Hill’s resolve. He started the trouble with a leadoff walk to outfielder Jay Bruce. A single by d’Arnaud rolled past Chase Utley at second base. Utley cost Hill in the next at-bat, dropping a popup to load the bases with none out.
Hill used the cutter to wriggle free. He had consulted with Clayton Kershaw about the grip of the pitch, and he showed confidence with it Wednesday. He spun the pitch past shortstop Jose Reyes for one strikeout. He pumped it for two strikes to second baseman Gavin Cecchini before finishing the at-bat with an 89-mph four-seamer. Hill fooled Pill with curveballs to strand all three runners.
“It goes back to making one pitch at a time,” Hill said.
The offense rewarded Hill for maintaining the tie. Cody Bellinger sparked a rally by smashing a double through the right side of the infield.
Bellinger barreled into second base, which forced a wild throw by Bruce. Bellinger took third base on the error. He scored on a double by Logan Forsythe.
After intentionally walking Pederson, Puig came to the plate. Pill missed inside with two fastballs. Puig swung through a changeup but took another. Down in the count, Pill hummed a fastball that bisected the plate.
Puig did not miss.
No one would miss what happened next.