Puig takes a huge gamble, and Dodgers hit the jackpot

Years ago, when your humble correspondent was new to covering big league baseball and working in Denver covering the Rockies, they had a pretty good player you may recall named Larry Walker, who won the National League MVP award in 1997. Walker, who had grown up in Canada, was playing baseball only because his hockey dreams hadn’t panned out, but he still had uncanny instincts for the game, and he wasn’t afraid to take chances — chances a lot of more “fundamentally sound” players would never, ever take — on the basepaths.

I remember Don Baylor, who was managing the team at the time, saying one day of Walker’s daring, “He’s just never out.”

I thought of that quote after watching Yasiel Puig stretch the safest of singles into the unlikeliest of doubles with one out in the bottom of the 12th inning tonight. Oh, he might have scored from first on Adrian Gonzalez‘s subsequent double, which went up the leftfield line, caromed off that corner that sticks out and shot back into shallow left, but we’ll never know. Fact is, he did score from second, uncontested, and that was because of his aggressiveness on the bases.

By the time Puig’s ball got to center field, it was moving slowly along the grass, slowly enough that even though Juan Lagares, who had been playing Puig deep, was charging hard, Puig thought he had a chance to get to second. And he might have — the play was going to be close, but it looked like Puig had about a 50/50 shot of sliding in under the tag. But then, when Lagares’ throw shorthopped whichever middle infielder was covering the bag and skipped onto the infield grass, Puig was in the clear.

“I’m always thinking two out of the box,” Puig said later, through an interpreter.

Puig is young. He is raw. He isn’t really fundamentally sound, and you get the impression he doesn’t really care. He’ll sometimes throw to the wrong base, miss a cutoff man, make a mistake on the bases — unlike Walker, sometimes he IS out. But in a weird way, especially when you consider what this kid has brought to this once-moribund team, that is a big part of his charm.

There is nothing textbook about Puig. But I have to admit, he may just be the most electrifying player I have ever seen in my 19 years around this game. Sometimes you hear it said of a player, usually those scrappy, get-the-uniform-dirty type guys, “It ain’t always pretty but he gets the job done.” Puig is kind of the opposite of that. In his case, it doesn’t always get the job done, but it is always, without exception, pretty. And thrilling. And unforgettable.

And this time, it DID get the job done. And as a result, the Dodgers walked off with their 40th victory in their past 48 games.

Oh, and by the way, it’s worth mentioning that before that hit, Puig was 0-for-5 on the night. Like I wrote a couple of nights ago, the guy just ALWAYS finds some way to impact a game.

14 comments

  1. All you left out was the amazing throw to get Marlon Byrd at third base.

  2. Wow I did leave that out. In all the other craziness, I actually kind of forgot about it. But as I tweeted at the time, it was the best throw I’ve seen him make, a bullet that was right on target. Good tag by Hairston and good call by Kellogg as well, because that was a close, bang-bang play.

  3. Mattingly said after the game he was thinking 2 there also and to be aggressive.

  4. Given what we know about Puig now, if he were a free agent (like he was after defecting from Cuba) what kind of contract would he likely get now?
    vr, Xei

  5. Puig is one of few “stop and watch” players. When he’s coming to bat, you’ll wait until the AB is over before you venture to the fridge, concession stand or bathroom.

  6. I thought we signed Puig for 7 years.

  7. Tony,

    You’re doing a great job with this website. It’s good to have you back on the beat (of sorts).

    Do you get the sense that when (if?) Kemp returns for September, they will look to platoon him with either of Crawford and Ethier? It seems like Mattingly wants Puig in the lineup, potential struggles be damned.

    Also, is there any truth to rumors and speculation that the team could look to move Kemp in the offseason? I think that would be a mistake.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Kendall! I honestly get no sense of what is going to happen when Kemp returns, but as we have seen in the past, these things tend to take care of themselves. Wouldn’t shock me if they only have four OF’s for a few days before somebody else gets hurt. As for trading Kemp, no chance. Even If they wanted to, can’t see anyone taking on that contract.

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