The 22-year-old right fielder made his October debut on Thursday night against the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, and a cursory look at the box score will say that it was a solid debut. Puig helped lead the Dodgers to a 6-1 victory by collecting a pair of hits in four at-bats and scoring a run.
Not exactly eye-popping stuff, to be sure. Especially not in light of what the box score will say about Clayton Kershaw (seven innings, one run, 12 strikeouts). But, you know, solid.
But then there's the stuff that happened in Puig's debut that's not in the box score. Namely:
- His decision to go first to third on a single up the middle by Juan Uribe in the top of the second, ultimately resulting in the Dodgers' first run of the evening.
- His fake-out of Evan Gattis in the bottom of the second, resulting in an inning-ending double play.
- His ability to play it as cool as Fonzie when he was drilled by Kris Medlen in the top of the fifth.
So in addition to those hits and the run scored, Puig contributed to the Dodgers' win by making a smart baserunning play, a smart fielding play and by keeping his emotions in check.
Basically, he did the things that his critics were concerned he wouldn't be able to do come October.
Puig's antics are the sort that will cost a team in a close game in October. For every playoff game that Puig wins with his bold arm or crazy legs, he could cost them two.
And of course, who could forget the hot take of FoxSports.com's Jon Morosi from August?
For all that was written about Puig's attitude, meanwhile, it might have been Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero who summed it up best with what he said in July.
"He's got so much talent, it would be really bad if he wasted it just doing stupid things that he's doing," said Montero, via ArizonaSports.com. "You've got to respect to get respect, if you don't respect anybody you're not going to earn it."
Other things were written. Other things were said. But this is the gist of the main criticisms that were hanging over Puig's head going into the postseason. Silencing them—at least temporarily—proved to be no tall task.
Shall we break it all down?
Yeah, why not.
Going first to third on singles was something Puig did often in the regular season. According to Baseball-Reference.com, a total of 26 singles were hit with Puig standing on first base, and he went to third on 12 of them. That's a pretty good rate, and it's a testament to Puig's ridiculous athleticism.
However, there was more than just athleticism at play when Puig went first to third in Game 1.
Let's take a look at an image from the TBS broadcast. This shows what was going on while Puig was nearing the second base bag as Uribe's single made its way towards Jason Heyward in center field.
In this image, everything looks...Well, pretty routine. Heyward is closing on the ball, and the players on the infield are following the usual script. Elliot Johnson is manning second. Kris Medlen is on his way to go back up third base. Andrelton Simmons was drifting toward short to go receive a possible throw.
Even though there was one out in the inning, the safe thing for Puig to do would have been to stay at second base. No doubt that's what most other runners would have done in his shoes, as it's hardly a run-of-the-mill play to go first to third on a line-drive single up the middle.
Especially with Heyward manning center field, as he has an arm that Baseball America (subscription required) once raved about thusly: "his plus arm is one of the strongest in the minors with velocity, carry and accuracy on his throws."
But Puig approached the second base bag at full throttle, and this was the scene when he got there:
There were only 90 feet between Puig and third base, and Heyward still had ground to cover to even get to the ball. It certainly started rolling pretty slowly once it hit the outfield grass, but Heyward wasn't exactly sprinting after it either. You can see at about the 0:20 mark in the video highlights that he closed on the ball like he would on any other seemingly routine single.
Puig must have seen that Heyward was giving him a fraction of a second, thus lessening the risk of going for third base. With his speed, turning on the jets and going for it was an easy call.
I'm therefore not even sure I would call what Puig did an "aggressive" baserunning play. It was more like a good, old-fashioned "smart" baserunning play, with measured calculations and all the fixings. It resulted in a run when Skip Schumaker lifted a fly ball to center field that was plenty deep enough to score Puig from third.
Now that we've seen Puig showing off his smarts on the basepaths, let's take a look at him being clever in the outfield.
The Deke of Evan Gattis
My favorite baseball statistic is one known as "TOOTBLAN," which is short for "Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop."
The play that Evan Gattis made getting himself doubled off first base to end the second inning? It was a classic TOOTBLAN and certainly a bit of foolishness on Gattis' part.
But let's give Puig some credit. He had a hand in making it happen.
While Chris Johnson's blooper to right field was in the air, Puig started doing this:
Puig wasn't in shallow right field when he raised his glove. He was more in medium-depth right field, which I suppose could otherwise be called just "right field."
When Gattis saw that, a thought crossed his mind.
"A lot of outfielders just kind of throw their glove up there like they're going to catch it when they're not," Gattis told Anthony DiComo of MLB.com.
Gattis is right, of course. When Puig raised his glove that deep in right field, he appeared to be trying to convince Gattis that he had a chance to catch a ball that he likely had no chance of getting to. If a runner sees through such trickery, he has a shot at getting to third base.
But Puig? He had that ball all the way, and you have to give him props for deciding in a fraction of a second to see if he could deke Gattis into thinking he was being deked.
And then it was all too easy. Check out where Gattis was when Puig caught the ball:
As soon as the ball hit the leather, Gattis was toast.
Puig turned a lot of runners into toast during the regular season, sure, but usually just by virtue of his incredibly strong arm. But on Thursday night, it was his head that did the toasting honors.
Let's get this out of the way: No, Kris Medlen indeed wasn't trying to hit Puig in the fifth inning.
The situation at the time says as much, anyway. It was the fifth inning. There was a runner on first. The Braves were down four runs already. There was nobody out. It was hardly the time for an intentional beaning, even if it surely would have been satisfying to bean a guy who had caused the Braves so much consternation to that point.
Also, the pitch that hit Puig was a changeup. If a pitcher is going to hit a guy on purpose, he's not going to do it with something offspeed.
All this being said, it looked like the beaning might have been intentional at the time it went down, if for no other reason than because Medlen drilled Puig right in the numbers. That's classic message-sending territory right there.
And when it happened, there was one of those reactions. Braves fans in the house went "Oh!" at first, and then there was a mix of "Yeah!" and "Boo!" going on. The bulk of the patrons at Turner Field clearly weren't all that upset about Puig being hit.
I'm guessing that some in the house wanted to see Puig make something of it. I might as well admit that the 12-year-old professional wrestling fan in myself kinda wanted to see some fisticuffs, especially if it meant Puig throwing down with Brian "Gandalf" McCann. That would have made for some great theater.
But the thought of making something of it only appeared to cross Puig's mind for a split-second. And you can spot when it happened:
Going through his mind, in Nick Swisherese: "Dude. Seriously, bro?"
And so was Puig's cool kept, and ammunition for the critics of his attitude was avoided.
Mr. Montero, your thoughts?
Game 1 of the NLDS went well for Puig, but it didn't go perfectly. He was Good Puig for the bulk of the game, but Bad Puig did make an appearance in the latter stages of the contest.
In Puig's fourth plate appearance of the night, he went down swinging in the sixth inning.
In his fifth plate appearance, it was the same refrain. Puig went down swinging again in the ninth inning.
That's Puig for you. With him, the Dodgers are forced to take the bad with the good.
But throughout the regular season, there was plenty more good than bad, and the good contributed to more wins than the bad did losses. To that extent, it was the same old thing on Thursday night.
The concerns were certainly there that the high pressure of the postseason was going to bring Bad Puig to the surface and make him run amok, but that didn't happen. Good Puig showed up early and stuck around for a while before Bad Puig appeared, and it turned out that Good Puig had some tricks up his sleeve.
If Good Puig continues to show up, these Dodgers are going to be tough to beat...And the critics are going to have to find something else to talk about.
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