This pre-season, Los Angeles Dodgers fans have been quietly (or very loudly in some cases) worrying about what was happening to 2013 rookie sensation Yasiel Puig. After batting .122 this spring going into last night’s game at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Dodger fans had to ask themselves one dreaded yet necessary question: “Have pitchers figured out Puig just in time to send him into a sophomore slump?”
Fans have tried to focus the sophomore slump talk solely on pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, but Puig was begging to enter the conversation with his poor attitude, poor hitting and poorer fielding during Cactus League. When one player who meant as much to a season as Puig did in 2013 begins to struggle, the anxiety of the Dodgers faithful is wholly excusable and expected.
As he turned in one poor performance after another, the anxiety grew to genuine concern. More quietly, the Los Angeles coaching staff was struggling to answer questions regarding their troubled superstar.
As fear began to take hold in Los Angeles, something amazing happened when the team touched down in Australia; he loosened up, he had fun and he got his swagger back. Most importantly, he did something we haven’t seen the young man do in too long … he flipped a bat! Well, a cricket bat, but it was awesome nonetheless. With some players, it’s just as important to see them having fun as it is to see them in the cage. For better or worse, Yasiel Puig is one of those players.
Maybe it was the relaxation of vacation, the need to prove to the team he was “back” in their last exhibition before the opener, or something in the Sydney water. But last night at the Cricket Grounds, he was back to his old ways on the field, and it was good to see.
With L.A. down 0-2 in the eighth inning, Puig smacked a dangler into the Aussie sky for two runs that tied the game up. The Dodgers came back. It was a small and relatively inconsequential moment in time, but it was eerily reminiscent of the Dodgers squad last year that let Puig’s bat take the lead in clutch moments, with the rest of the team sure to follow. Before Puig’s homer, the Dodgers were hitless in seven innings, and the entire team was on fire afterwards.
Therein lies the point of having a Yasiel Puig. He once again showed the Dodgers faithful that they can count on him to be what he was in 2013: a fearless hitter who seems to have an eye for the ball in the moments when his team needs it the most. One comeback is a small sample size, but in comparison to the way the rest of Puig’s spring has been going, it was a Herculean effort and moment of triumph.