Yasiel Puig made a diving catch in right-center field Thursday that was spectacular even by his standards.
Manager Don Mattingly said no other player would have come close to making that second-inning play at Citi Field, which prevented an extra-base hit by New York Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores. Center fielder Matt Kemp recalled reflexively shouting an expletive at seeing Puig slide headfirst into the warning track with the ball secured in his glove.
Said pitcher Zack Greinke: “It doesn’t happen very often where you know a ball is going to be a double and someone just runs down something they shouldn’t run down.”
But Puig’s breathtaking display of athleticism couldn’t overcome another fundamentally flawed performance by the Dodgers, who dropped a 5-3 decision to the Mets and were deprived of a three-game sweep.
Puig’s mistakes on the basepaths resulted in two completely avoidable double plays. Kemp made an error in center field and Justin Turner made another at third base, both of which resulted in runs.
Most alarming were the continued defensive problems of Kemp, who ranks among the worst center fielders in baseball, according to advanced metrics.
Kemp has looked nothing like the player who won Gold Gloves in 2009 and 2011. In the wake of his off-season ankle operation, he hasn’t had the same burst of speed, according to Mattingly.
“That kind of outrun-the-ball thing,” Mattingly said.
Kemp thinks his defensive issues are less about his speed and more about his reads.
“I’m probably not getting as a good jump as I need to on some plays. I have to keep working and practicing on my defense,” Kemp said.
Mattingly said he is satisfied with Kemp’s effort and pregame work.
“We think that everything’s going to continue to come back as long as he works,” Mattingly said.
Kemp was playing shallow in Citi Field’s spacious outfield when Curtis Granderson doubled over his head to lead off the second inning. Kemp fumbled the ball when collecting it, allowing Granderson to take third base.
Granderson scored on a sacrifice fly by Eric Campbell to tie the game, 1-1.
“I cost us one run today by bobbling the ball,” Kemp said. “It’s nobody’s fault but mine.”
Like Mattingly, Kemp was certain his defense would improve.
“My legs are getting stronger and stronger every day,” he said.
The Dodgers’ next error, this one in the fifth inning by Turner, also cost the Dodgers a run.
Anthony Recker doubled and scored on a double by pitcher Jonathon Niese, who reached third on a groundout. Daniel Murphy hit a grounder that was headed directly toward shortstop Hanley Ramirez, but Turner intercepted and dropped it. Niese scored, extending the Mets’ lead to 3-1.
Puig’s blunders on the basepaths thwarted the comeback attempt.
The Dodgers had runners on first and second base in the sixth inning when Ramirez hit a pop-up to Murphy at second base. First base umpire Stu Scheurwater invoked the infield-fly rule, meaning Ramirez was automatically out, whether or not the ball was caught.
Puig could have remained at first base but didn’t. He was tagged out at second base.
“I didn’t see the umpire signal,” Puig said. “He did it a little late.”
Figgins reached third base on the play, but Adrian Gonzalez grounded out and the inning was over. The Dodgers still trailed, 3-1.
With the Dodgers down, 4-3, Puig doubled in the eighth inning with one out. Ramirez followed with a line drive to left field that sent Puig bolting for third base and, presumably, home plate. But left fielder Eric Campbell caught the ball and doubled off Puig at second base.
The inning ended with Gonzalez in the on-deck circle.
“We just have to be a little more cautious because of where we are in the order,” Mattingly said.