ST. LOUIS -- There's perhaps not a more divisive topic in baseball right now than Dodgersfirebrand Yasiel Puig. Thanks to his eye-grabbing skills and headline-grabbing bravado, the 22-year-old import is not one to inspire dispassion.
On this, though, there can be no disagreement: Friday night's in Game 6 of the NLCS -- an eventual 9-0 win by the World Series-bound Cardinals -- Puig reached new depths. At the plate, Puig, who often struggled in the series, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. But nothing crystallized his night and his story quite like his unfocused performance in the field.
In the third, he made an ill-advised throw to the hinterlands of the infield, which didn't seriously threaten the plate-bound runner and also allowed Carlos Beltran to advance to second. Beltran would soon thereafter score on a two-out hit by Yadier Molina.
Later that inning, Puig made his first of two errors and perhaps his most definitive misstep of the night. With the bases loaded, Shane Robinson slashed a single to right, and Puig chambered the ball and did this ...
First, the effort is to be praised on principle. When the torque of the throw forces you to perform a somersault of sorts, you're not being casual about things. With that said, this is a throw designed not to extinguish a runner at the plate but rather to reverse the rotation of the earth. A "merely" good and direct throw would likely have done the trick, but this one was too vigorous by half. Call it an "error of enthusiasm."
In the fifth, Puig again committed a foul, this time by booting away Yadier Molina's lead-off single -- a misplay that allowed the sloth-paced Molina to advance into scoring position. He'd later score the fifth run of the game. Keep in mind, of course, that Puig plays right field, which is very much a "low error" position. The arm is powerful, of course, but Puig too occasionally uses it as a blunt instrument, as we saw on the throw above.
It was one game -- a game in which no one in the road grays looked particularly good and a game the outcome of which Puig along didn't come close to determining. But given the story of Puig and given the idea that his talents are in need of some harnessing, his Game 6 struggles seemed to fit the script a bit too conveniently. It's not entirely fair that these mistakes would be less noteworthy had they been committed by another player, but it's too late to challenge that reality. The Dodgers' season, after all, is over.
Let's conclude with a bit of perspective, though. This is a player who in his rookie season authored a batting line of .319/.391/.534 with 19 homers in 104 games. Is he poorly equipped to handle the glare? Personally, I doubt anyone who's risen the highest level of baseball is poorly equipped to handle any kind of glare, but it's worth recalling that Puig put up an OPS of 1.029 in the NLDS win over the Braves.
As well, this is a player who, at the plate, looks quite different in terms of approach than he did in those earliest games after being called up. He's more patient, the pitch-recognition skills have observably improved, and he's shown the ability and willingness to adjust, sometimes in the course of a single plate appearance. Puig is not some kind of unchecked baseball "id" who does nothing on the diamond but submit to urges. If you look closely, you already see the signs of growth and maturity that everyone's pining for.
With that said, Game 6 was an untimely reminder that Puig -- like almost any 22-year-old in any walk of life -- needs work. Fortunately for him and the Dodgers, there's plenty of time for that, just as there's plenty of time for Puig to make Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS something we all forget. For now, though, this one's going to stick with him. Fair or not.