Yasiel Puig seems able to put on a show, whatever he does
It was two hours before the first pitch Thursday, and the Dodger Stadium tour guide was ushering a dozen fans from the seats behind home plate when one of them stopped.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Puig is hitting.”
“But…,” said the tour guide.
“No, no, no,” said another fan. “Puig is hitting.”
The entire group halted to witness the hottest debuting hitter in Dodgers history take batting practice. Turns out they could have done it with their eyes closed.
Thwack! Home run. Boom! Home run. Bang! Ball off the wall.
After Puig had turned the first three pitches into something that sounded like a cartoon brawl, the tour guide sighed.
“OK,” he said. “We’ll stick around and watch Puig.”
We will, indeed. As the Southern California summer moves from soft to sticky, we’ll crowd into Chavez Ravine to stand under the 22-year-old Dodgers sensation as if he were a wildly refreshing sprinkler.
He sprayed amazement again Thursday night in a 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies that left one Matt Kemp as breathless as the rest of us.
“Puig, man, he’s an amazing kid,” Kemp said afterward.
Soak him in, L.A.
In a span of 20 minutes, Puig crumpled against an outfield wall, then climbed up to crush the Phillies.
In the seventh inning, he ran hard into the right field wall, futilely chasing a home run by Chase Utley. It was the same wall that injured the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, and when Puig collapsed on the ground, Dodger Stadium became one giant gasp.
But soon thereafter, his uniform dirty and his gait stiff, Puig staggered to home plate with bases loaded like some sort of action hero. Movie magic ensued. Facing Justin De Fratus, he swung wildly at an outside slider, swung wildly at another outside slider, then lunged and hit a third outside slider into left field to bring in two runs and give the Dodgers the lead and eventual win.
The stadium shook. Puig raised his hands in excited triumph even as he was leaving the batters’ box. After the fans calmed, they eventually settled into the beginnings of a chant that may eventually define a season.
“M-V-Puig … M-V-Puig …"
At Dodger Stadium, where this 22-year-old with less than one year of minor league experience has required all of 23 games to own the place, those people should know.
You don’t just watch Puig, you experience him.
“You feel this energy … shhhhh … everything is fast ... this kid is just all fresh, nobody knows what he’s going to do next,” said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly earlier this week.
The Chavez Ravine craziness starts at the start, when Puig runs to the outfield before the beginning of the first inning. He sprints and sways like a giant fullback running pregame pass patterns. He’s the closest thing this town has had to a professional football player in nearly 20 years.
Once he takes his position, well, he never really takes his position. He’s caught balls while lunging toward the edge of the infield and while running down near the Dodgers’ dugout. He’s thrown to all bases whether there was anybody running in that direction or not.
And twice, he’s nearly decapitated teammates while doing it. He nearly collided with Andre Ethier while taking a fly ball away from him in San Diego, and nearly steamrollered Hanley Ramirez while chasing a pop fly earlier this week.
When Ethier was asked about it later, he shook his head, kissed his hand and pointed to the sky in thanks. Ramirez reacted immediately, making the sign of the cross while running into the dugout.
When asked if he was worried about a potential wreck, Mattingly did not smile.
“A little bit,” he said. “I want somebody to catch it, and I don’t want anybody to get hurt.”
The madness continues when Puig comes to the plate. Check that. He’s entertaining just standing on deck,
On Thursday, while twirling a bat in his left hand, he casually caught a foul ball that bounced off the backstop with his right hand, then tossed it into the stands in one motion amid laughter and cheers.
“It’s fun to watch,” said Mattingly. “Everything is a first time.”
He walks to the plate amid the catchy tune “Papa Dios Me Dijo.” Once he’s there, the noise gives way to the ceremony. He carefully makes the sign of the cross in the dirt before reaching the plate, then makes the same sign with his hands before batting.
Well, it’s not exactly batting. It’s more like hacking.
On Thursday he swung at the first pitch he saw, swung wildly to strand a runner in his second at-bat, fouled off five pitches in his third at-bat, and then swung three times in his eventual game-winning appearance.
“Anything can happen, we’ve already seen it,” said Mattingly. “He just hits. He just plays.”
He’s played with more excitement and surprise than anyone in baseball since he showed up here, and talk about his not playing in the All-Star game is absurd. Puig qualifies under both definitions of the event. He belongs in an exhibition of baseball’s brightest stars, and he certainly belongs in a competitive match for World Series home-field advantage.
Who knows what he’ll do next? All but one member of Thursday’s afternoon Dodger Stadium tour thought little about the question as they departed the field-
level seats after Puig’s first batting-practice session.
But one woman stayed behind, and guess what? Puig saw her, smiled, and impulsively tossed her a ball.
Of course, she caught it. We’ve all caught it. The wonderfully contagious summer of Puig rolls on.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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