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.