Yasiel Puig doing something remarkable is becoming so common that it hardly qualifies as news anymore.
The young Cuban phenom seems to be able to handle just about every pitch thrown to him. If he makes a play that looks bone-headed, he usually makes up for it an inning or two later by making a play that drops jaws. A hard throw to get a runner taking an extra base. A diving catch. A home run. A big hit.
23 games into his Major League career, Yasiel Puig has already created volumes of major league history. Every game, his performance gets compared to the all-time greats. Every move he makes draws some parallel to an athletic wonder from the past. Raul Mondesi. Bo Jackson. Roberto Clemente.
But it’s safe to say that Yasiel Puig is Yasiel Puig. Comparisons hardly seem fair. The young man hardly knows any English. He’s still adapting to American culture. He’s gone from relative poverty to having probably more money than he even imagined having in his life.
Yet when Yasiel Puig is on a baseball diamond, none of that seems to matter. Yasiel Puig speaks baseball. Yasiel Puig lives for baseball. Yasiel Puig plays the game with an enthusiasm and spark that many players seem to lose over the course of many years of grueling travel ball schedules, high school and college coaches, private tutors. In the process, Yasiel Puig is reminding those players that this game is still fun, that winning is fun, that hearing the crowd roar is fun.
And now, Yasiel is the new normal in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are on a six game winning streak. Players up and down the lineup seem to be working together for the first time this season for the better of the team.
Thursday night’s matchup pitted Zack Greinke against Jonathan Pettibone. The Phillies came in off a 13 inning win in San Diego on Wednesday night and have been playing pretty good ball as of late, climbing back into the playoff hunt while generating a good amount of debate as to whether they should be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline, which now looms only about a month away.
The Dodgers got off to a hot start Thursday night. A leadoff walk by Schumaker, a hard liner that hit the mound and resulted in a force play by Puig and a base hit from Adrian Gonzalez brought up Matt Kemp. Kemp’s double down the left field line plated Puig for an early 1-0 lead. Andre Ethier then drove a ball off the right-center field wall that fell just short of being a home run, driving in Gonzalez and Kemp and the Dodgers got out of the first inning with a 3-0 lead.
The Phillies quickly got a run back in the top of the 2nd. Domonic Brown led the inning off with a solo blast to right-center for his National League leading 21st homer of the year. A single, a walk and an out later, Zack Greinke picked Delmon Young off second base for the second out before striking out Phillies pitcher Jonathan Pettibone to end the inning.
The teams’ bats calmed down and scored no further runs until the fifth inning, when the Phillies strung four hits together to push across two runs. Chase Utley’s RBI single plated Jonathan Pettibone, and Jimmy Rollins followed with a single of his own that scored Ben Revere, tying the score at 3-3. Ryan Howard then bounced into a double play on a 3-0 pitch to end the inning.
Greinke’s effectiveness diminished, though he managed to get through the sixth inning unscathed and looked like he might escape the top of the seventh, but Chase Utley hit a line drive to right field with two outs that barely cleared the wall and put the Phillies up 4-3.
A scary moment on the home run occurred when Yasiel Puig ran into the wall at full-speed, crashed into it while jumping to try to make a play on the ball, then crumpled to the ground.
The Dodgers would strike back in the bottom of the 7th. A.J. Ellis walked. Juan Uribe laid down a bunt and a crashing Ryan Howard lost his footing, giving Uribe a bunt hit and the Dodgers first and second with none out. Nick Punto sacrificed the runners to second and third, then Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked while pinch hitting for Zack Greinke. Skip Schumaker struck out on three pitches, and Justin De Fratus appeared to be on the verge of getting out of the inning when he got two quick strikes on Yasiel Puig.
The 0-2 pitch was a slider away. The ball looked about a foot out of the strike zone on the replay and at first it looked like Puig was badly fooled by the pitch as he reached out. However, not only did Puig manage to make contact with the ball as it tailed away, but he pulled the ball into left field past the diving shortstop, scoring Ellis and Uribe and giving the Dodgers a 5-4 lead.
Matt Kemp would put on a base running clinic in the bottom of the 8th inning. Kemp singled, stole second, got an incredible jump to easily steal third, then steamed home on a medium fly ball by A.J. Ellis that went for a sacrifice fly. If Matt Kemp’s hamstrings are bothering him, it didn’t show at all in the 8th inning on Thursday night.
Kemp’s run gave the Dodgers a 6-4 advantage. Ben Revere got a two out single against the Dodger closer, but he then retired Chase Utley with a sharp liner to Adrian Gonzalez to end the game.
Zack Greinke picks up the win, improving to 5-2 after scattering 4 runs and 12 hits over 7 innings of work. Justin De Fratus picks up the loss in relief to fall to 2-2. Kenley Jansen earned his 7th save of the season.
Game 2 of the 4 game weekend set will be tonight at Dodger Stadium, a 7:10 p.m. start. Chris Capuano (2-4, 4.09 ERA) takes on John Lannan (0-2, 5.84).