Of all the signs, omens and harbingers that have accompanied this unforgettable season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, perhaps the most telling one is the recent performance of Nick Punto.
OK, so the Dodgers have been without Hanley Ramirez, arguably their best all-around player, for all but pinch-hitting duty for the past week and change because of a jammed left shoulder.
Well, in the eight games Ramirez hasn’t been able to start, Punto has become the accidental everyday shortstop. All he has done in that roll so far is hit .450 (9-for-20) with three doubles, a homer and six RBI. On Tuesday night, as the Dodgers were scratching out a win against New York Mets phenom Matt Harvey, it was Punto who provided the game-winning hit, a one-out, two-run double in the bottom of the fifth that put the Dodgers ahead 2-1.
And then, he ended the top of the sixth with a beautiful diving stop to his left of a smoking line drive by Marlon Byrd, and when the ball popped out of his glove when he hit the ground, Punto reacted instinctively, corraling it, leaping to his feet and firing a strike to first to get Byrd by a step.
All this after he hit a towering home run off Mets reliever Carlos Torres in the seventh inning on Monday night to cap a 4-2 victory.
Punto was never supposed to play as much as he has this year, but when he has been forced into everyday action, he has more than stepped up to the challenge. It is yet another example of the depth this Dodgers team has that sets it apart from some of the other “good” Dodgers teams you have seen in recent years.
Meanwhile, in celebrating the fact the Dodgers found a way to beat Harvey, it shouldn’t be overlooked that they got yet another strong performance from Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu, who went seven strong innings, allowing just a solo homer by Juan Lagares in the first inning and scattering five hits.