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BILL DWYRE

Yasiel Puig's first act with Dodgers is a thriller

There's no telling how his story will turn out in the long run, but he has already brought back excitement for Dodgers fans.

June 06, 2013|Bill Dwyre
  • Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig gets ready for batting practice on Wednesday evening at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig gets ready for batting practice… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Wednesday night's game between the Dodgers and the Padres wasn't held at Dodger Stadium, as scheduled. It took place at Yasiel Puig World.

Disney might try to buy the place and raise ticket prices some more.

Hours before the Cuban overnight sensation had to face curves and fastballs from San Diego right-hander Jason Marquis, he had to face the media music. The microphones and notepads swooped in like vultures. This is Hollywood and a star had been born.

No long labor here. No Caesarean section. Two games, five hits in eight at-bats, two homers, one bullet throw from the wall in right field to double up a runner at first base.

In a city where two major league baseball teams with World Series aspirations were flopping around like fish on a deck — the Dodgers entered Wednesday night in last place and the Angels keep showing they have the stuff to get there — Puig presented a highlight. His two homers Tuesday night in a 9-7 victory were especially awe-inspiring, one of them leaving the yard faster than a speeding bullet.

Is he to be baseball's next superman?

"It's only been 24 hours," said Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner, "but what a 24 hours."

Another Dodgers broadcaster, some guy named Scully who is in his 64th season and has probably seen a lot, said, "He lifted the whole place up."

It isn't Fernandomania yet, but another month or so of Puig power and we could get there.

Puig is 22, goes 6 feet 3 and 245 pounds, and is what baseball affectionately and eagerly refers to as a five-tool player: He can run, hit for average, hit with power, throw and field.

Actually, Puig has at least two other tools. He picks good agents; his got him seven years and $42 million after he defected from the warm embrace of Fidel Castro's island. He also does not drive Miss Daisy. In April, he was stopped by the Tennessee police for going 97 mph in a 50 zone.

For the media mob Wednesday, he did his best, even though his best had to be translated.

"I'm grateful for how the fans are coming to the stadium, cheering and saying my name," he said.

Is he already feeling some pressure?

"I play ball with the boys and try to do my best."

The only thing close to controversial was when he was asked if he was upset by being sent to the minors after leading the Dodgers and all of the Cactus League in batting with a .517 average in spring training.

"I didn't take it badly," he said. "They made the decision for me to go to double-A to work on some things, and that's what I did."

Actually, those who were there that day at Camelback Ranch, Ariz., said his reaction to the demotion was otherwise. Maybe that's an eighth tool: avoiding controversy.

He is already being compared to Bo Jackson (physique and power), Mike Trout (all-around star quality). Even Vladimir Guerrero (never met a pitch he didn't like).

"He's got a little VladGuerrero in him," said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. "He just goes up there and tries to hit it hard every time. He doesn't care about where it goes."

He could easily be called the Havana Hammer, except that he is from Cienfuegos, about 160 miles away. Too bad for headline writers and columnists suffering from alliteration syndrome.

Veteran second baseman Mark Ellis said that not only had Puig energized the team and the fans, but that his bullet homer to right field was among the more impressive things he has seen.

"You just don't see them quite like that, from a right-handed hitter," Ellis said. "When I hit shots like that, they go over the second baseman's head."

Ellis said the months ahead for Puig will be telling.

"He's got a lot to prove," Ellis said. "He's from Cuba, plus there are people who didn't agree with the kind of money he got. But if he's not around the last two nights, we don't win those games."

Well, Puig was certainly around Wednesday night and the Dodgers didn't win. That's baseball. Clouds quickly blow in to obscure shining stars.

Puig went 0 for 4, bouncing out weakly twice and striking out twice, the second time looking at a called third strike in the eighth inning, with the Dodgers trailing, 3-2, and in need of heroics.

Maybe it was the media overkill, a disease these days. When it was time for pregame batting practice, Puig was surrounded next to his locker by questioners. Hanley Ramirez teased from a few lockers away that all Puig needed to do to top Tuesday night was "three homers."

Adrian Gonzalez, less playful, noted the media scrum and mentioned that it was time for batting practice. Seeing no movement, Gonzalez informed Puig, in Spanish, of the need to learn one important word. "No."

For the moment, that ended the circus. But in baseball, and Hollywood, there is always another show. This is early in the first act for Puig.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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