Column: Yasiel Puig has Dodger Stadium rocking during Game 2 defeat of Arizona
Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig is enjoying the playoffs.
His name has become a song, a deep-throated anthem lasting only three seconds yet big enough to engulf a city enraptured by its lyric.
The joyful bellowing has rippled through Chavez Ravine since Yasiel Puig joined the Dodgers in 2013, but never like this, never this loud, never this emotional, never this hungry.
Two games into the National League division series, with the Dodgers looking strong enough to wind up in a World Series, 50,000 fans at Dodger Stadium are begging Puig to carry them there, and he is pleading for them to climb aboard.
You can hear it now, can’t you? You were chanting it even in your living room, weren’t you?
One night after the stealing the show in a Game 1 victory by wagging his tongue, Puig thrilled the house again Saturday by wagging his bat, flexing his arms, screaming for more. In the Dodgers’ 8-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Puig knocked in a run with a grounder, kept alive a scoring inning with a single, knocked in another run with another single, then added an infield single that eventually led to yet another run.
Before and after each of his at-bats, the air was swallowed by the song, and each time he danced to it, throwing his hands in the air, pumping his fists, pointing at his teammates, slapping his thighs, leading the cheers.
He ended one inning when he was caught straying off first base and thrown out attempting to steal. The fans sang anyway. Soon thereafter he made a routine catch in right field, and the song flowed again.
“Let’s Go Puig’’…”Let’s Go Puig.’’
“If you hit, people are yelling your name,’’ Puig said afterward with his trademark giant grin. “If you strikeout, who’s yelling your name? You need to do something in the game so people can be happy with you.’’
Oh, people are happy, all right. This might be the team of Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner, but so far in this postseason, this is Yasiel Puig’s moment, the once-polarizing figure locked in on his game and smothered in love. In all Saturday, he went three for four with two RBIs, and in this series he is five for nine with four RBIs.
Plus, of course, he is one-for-one when licking his bat, and the only player in recent memory to celebrate a triple by wagging his tongue.
“I come with my tongue out, I put my hands up, I kiss my hitting coach, something every day, this is the playoffs, everybody is happy to be here,’’ Puig said. “I want to play fun.”
It is appropriate that all this fun has pushed the Dodgers to the brink of winning this best-of-five series — it seems unlikely Arizona can beat them three consecutive times — because his triumph is an organizational triumph.
He caused so many problems in his first few years, Dodger officials would not have been blamed for trading him — this columnist even called for him to be traded — but they never did. Sometimes they banked on his potential, other times they just figured they could never get appropriate value, but each time, they kept him.
When they could finally take his act no more last season, he was actually sent down to the minor leagues for a spell. That helped inspire him to an unexpected rebound 2017 season in which he improved the professionalism of his plate appearances while playing well enough in right field to win a Gold Glove.
But, Puig being Puig, he still couldn’t stay out of trouble. Late this season, manager Dave Roberts showed more tough love by benching him for two games, once for a reckless and failed game-ending steal attempt, and then again when he was late for batting practice.
It was setting up for this postseason to be like several previous dreary Puig postseasons. Remember, just three years ago, in this same division series, Puig had seven consecutive strikeouts. But this time, Puig, 26 and his career at a crossroads, has responded in the best manner possible, and now his act could be headed for late October.
Dodgers left fielder Curtis Granderson high-fives in the dugout after scoring on a two-run double hit by catcher Austin Barnes in the fifth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig flings his bat after hitting an RBI single giving the Dodgers a 7-2 lead in the fifth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe scores on a fourth inning wild pitch by DBacks pitcher Robbie Ray.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig celebrates as he runs to first after driving in a run on a single in the fifth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers left fielder Curtis Granderson reacts after scoring on a two-run double by catcher Austin Barnes in the fifth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig licks his bat during a fourth inning at bat.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Logan Forsythe, Yasiel Puig and Corey Seager celebrate an 8-5 win over the Diamondbacks.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen gets the save in the Dodgers 8-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Yasiel Puig (66) reacts at first base after hitting an RBI single giving the Dodgers a 7-2 lead in the fifth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Fans cheer as Dodgers’ Logan Forsythe scores the tying run on a pass ball in the fourth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig is tagged out by Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte during the fifth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes hits a two-run double to give the Dodgers a 6-2 led in the fifth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig reacts after he hits a single to load the bases in the fourth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill recoils as he induces Diamondbacks catcher Chris Ianetta into an inning ending grounder.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner reacts after popping out with a runner on base in the first inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock congratulates Paul Goldschmidt after he hit a two-run homer in the first inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
DBacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt rounds the bases after homering against Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill in the first inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fans get ready for Game 2 of the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
“It’s fun because I play this postseason,’’ Puig said. “The last two postseasons, I don’t play too much…now I play every day, that’s why I play fun.’’
The song started Saturday night in the second inning, with the Dodgers trailing 2-0 after a first-inning homer by Paul Goldschmidt off struggling starter Rich Hill. The bellowing began when Puig stepped to the plate with runners on first and second bases and one out. He ran the count to 3-and-0 in a sequence that included a wild pitch that moved the runners to second and third. He then grounded to third baseman Jake Lamb to score a run.
Puig came the plate with two runners on base again in the fourth, to more singing, and this time he drove a two-strike fastball into center field for a single to load the bases. Standing on first, he turned into a wildly gesturing cheerleader. Soon thereafter, the Dodgers scored on a Robbie Ray wild pitch and a Chris Taylor infield single.
“He’s a guy that feeds off the high energy, feeds off the crowd, when we see him get pumped up, it gets us all going,’’ Taylor said. “That’s why we love him.’’
Finally, in the seventh, Puig hit a sharp grounder that a lunging Lamb could barely handle, and Puig dashed to first with another single, leading to the Dodgers’ eighth run.
“I was talking to the coaches and this is as good as we’ve seen him focus on every single pitch in the game,’’ said Roberts. “When you combine that with the skill set that he has and the energy that he brings, he doesn’t only energize 50,000 people, he energizes everyone in the clubhouse. So when he’s in the box, making plays with his arm, his glove, on the bases, it’s exciting.’’
His teammates agree the timing is perfect.
”We’ve been seeing that all year,’’ Hill said. “Now everybody gets to see it on the biggest stage.’’
And on this stage, the Dodgers are now in the middle of a musical, one word, one note, one hope.
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