Even when he's slumping, showing up late and getting benched, Yasiel Puig managed to make a huge difference for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Puig went from the doghouse to the penthouse Tuesday night, hitting a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning to help push the Dodgers to a 6-4 victory against the Miami Marlins.
Puig, who celebrated meeting fellow Cuban emigre Jose Fernandez in Miami the day before, might have spent a little too much time with the near-home folks, arriving 35 minutes before the Dodgers stretched Tuesday afternoon. That's late, and after a 10-minute closed-door meeting with manager Don Mattingly, he was benched. For five innings anyway, entering the game via a double switch in the sixth. Then the 22-year-old went to work. Via the Associated Press:
He batted for the first time leading off the eighth and needed only one pitch to break a 4-all tie. Puig pulled a ball that landed on top of the wall before bouncing over for his 12th home run since breaking into the majors June 3.
''I'd like to have a guy like that coming off the bench,'' Marlins manager Mike Redmond said with a wry smile.
Puig pointed to the sky with both hands as he crossed the plate and received a jubilant greeting in the dugout, where teammate Hanley Ramirez jumped on him for a piggyback ride.
All is better now!
It's funny that the Dodgers benched Puig shortly after some in the media suggested the Dodgers needed to do it because of mental mistakes, carelessness, etc. But that pertains to things such as baserunning and defense, not more basic discipline issues such as showing up on time or shouting expletives at the media for no good reason.
Puig had been struggling at the plate lately — in a really small sample size — going hitless in 11 at-bats. Losing a start might have jarred something in his psyche, too, though we're getting way too into amateur psychology here.
And it's tricky for the Dodgers. They want Puig playing on the edge of losing control, just like Maverick in "Top Gun." They want him to take the extra base when it's humanly possible. They want him to make tough throws. But he's also got to realize his limitations and use his teammates. Even guys like Maverick have lessons to learn.