Sunday, October 15, 2017

Yasiel Puig Puts on Swaggering Show in NLCS Game 1

From Bill Plaschke, at the Los Angeles Times, "With bat flips and fly balls, Yasiel Puig puts on a swaggering Game 1 show":

He ran out of the dugout during introductions with his tongue wagging playfully out of his mouth. He took off his cap to reveal lightning bolts shaved into his haircut.

Then, a couple of hours later, with a bat flip and a chest thump and roars that made Dodger Stadium literally shake, the Yasiel Puig Show officially began.

Fifth inning, line drive to left field, sprint to second base, pounding chest, flailing arms, run-scoring double.

Seventh inning, fly ball over left-field fence, swagger around the bases, curtain call out of the dugout, more tongue wagging, home run.

Now that’s entertainment, with Puig taking the Dodgers and their enchanted fans on a raucous, rollicking trip to a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

“It’s impacting everyone,’’ said manager Dave Roberts afterward of Puig. “It’s great when you can play with such emotion. … He loves the big stage, and right now he’s playing at a high level and not only the fans, but his teammates are feeding off of it.’’

The night began as a drama, with the Dodgers announcing that their star shortstop, Corey Seager, would be lost for the entirety of the seven-game series becase of a lower back strain.

It then became an adventure, as the underdog Cubs took a 2-0 lead after four innings with a two-run homer by Albert Almora Jr. against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

But, by the time the evening ended, it was a joyous musical that, based on a serenade running through Chavez Ravine these days, would be titled, “Puiiiiig!’’

The Dodgers, now three wins from their first World Series appearance in 29 years, will attempt an encore Sunday night at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series. The Dodgers led the Cubs two games to one in last year’s NLCS before collapsing and losing three straight, so nothing is being taken for granted. But, after one game, they clearly appear to be the more complete team.

And, of course, there’s only one Puig.

“I’m coming in here and preparing more this year than any years here with the team,’’ said Puig. “I’m so proud of myself, and I want to keep going and do the best I can for my teammates and for myself.”

Nobody epitomizes the Dodgers’ current journey more than their free-spirited, 26-year-old right fielder who, since joining the team at the start of its division-title run in 2013, has run the gamut from star to scorned and now back to star again.

He’s been cheered. He’s been benched. He’s been idolized. He’s been demoted. He’s been nearly traded about a dozen times, and, as recently as a month ago, he was scolded and punished for showing up late and missing batting practice.

But Dodgers management always kept him around in hopes that one day, he would maximize his incredible potential under the brightest of lights. That time appears to be now. So far, this October belongs to him.

“He’s really made exponential strides,’’ said Roberts. “He’s obviously a huge part of what we’re doing now, and I couldn’t be prouder.’’