NEW YORK — Yasiel Puig is listed as 22 years old, a fact that is frequently obscured by physical gifts that make him look as if he is a grown man playing Little League.
But after the Dodgers split a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the boy in Puig came out. The rookie outfielder smiled warmly as he recalled what it was like to play against Robinson Cano and Ichiro Suzuki in the Dodgers’ 6-4 defeat and 6-0 victory at Yankee Stadium.
That he would hit a home run over Suzuki’s head was something he could only dream of as a teenager in Cuba, where he said he idolized Cano and Suzuki from afar. He said his only chance to see them was in the World Baseball Classic, which is televised on the island. Major League Baseball games can’t be seen there.
“I thought I would get to know them one day,” Puig said. “Now, I feel very proud to have played against them here.”
But Puig did more than play against them. He became the show in the home of the most storied franchise in American sports, on a day when his manager’s return to the Bronx was supposed to be the story.
He was four for nine with a home run in the two games. He turned what appeared to be a routine single into a double. He bunted for a hit, stole a base and scored four runs. He was struck out by Mariano Rivera on five pitches to record the final out of the first game but said he treasured the memory of facing one of the greatest closers in history.
The performance gained the approval of at least one of his heroes.
“He’s the type of player who makes an impact,” Suzuki said. “He seems like a fun player.”
Even his mistakes were breathtaking. His first attempt to stretch a routine single into a double, in the first inning of the first game, resulted in his being thrown out at second base.
Lyle Overbay, the Yankees’ first baseman, couldn’t believe what he saw. Turning to first base umpire John Tumpane, he said, “I think he missed first because he can’t be there that fast.”
In the next inning, Puig nearly threw out Thomas Neal at first base when Neal singled to right field. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez couldn’t reach the throw, which skipped all the way to the backstop.
Seeing this, Manager Don Mattingly felt conflicted.
“We don’t want to take that away from him, his aggressiveness,” Mattingly said. “But then you want him to make good decisions. So, you’d like him to play full speed, the way he does, but make sure he’s making a good decision.”
Mattingly’s reluctance to temper Puig’s enthusiasm is understandable. In the eighth inning of the first game, Puig hit what appeared to be another routine single, to left-center field. Again, he went for second base. This time, he made it. He scored two batters later on a home run by Hanley Ramirez.
Puig hit a home run in the seventh inning of the second game, an opposite-field shot against reliever Adam Warren. The home run was Puig’s fifth.
Puig’s 27 hits in his first 15 games tied him for the second-most in the modern era with Joe DiMaggio and Terry Pendleton. Only Irv Waldron (28 hits in 1901) and Bo Hart (28 in 2003) had more.
“You see that he is an aggressive young player who has tools, I mean, a lot of tools,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said.
If Puig was overwhelmed by the stage, he didn’t show it. His routine leading up to every at-bat remained the same: he drew a cross in the dirt and said a prayer.
“If you give the best of yourself, it doesn’t matter what stadium you’re in,” Puig said.