The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t the only Major League team with Yasiel Puig envy. The Los Angeles Dodgers have seen it in every city in which they’ve played since the 22-year-old made his Major League debut by becoming the first rookie to capture player of the month award in June.
That’s something nobody has done since the award was unveiled in 1958. And while Puig’s raw athleticism and unpolished play has led to comparisons to the likes of Vladimir Guerrero and Bo Jackson, his impact on the Dodgers clubhouse in terms of energy and excitement leaves Don Mattingly searching for a comparable. “Ken Griffey, Jr., maybe,” Mattingly said this week.
Watch: Dodgers beat Blue Jays in extra innings
The Blue Jays are defeathered. Swept now in consecutive series by the Tampa Bay Rays and Dodgers – capped off by an 8-3 loss on Wednesday low-lighted by Colby Rasmus’s game-costing error on a misplayed fly ball to centre field – they face the Major Leagues’ worst team in a four-game series starting tonight at the Rogers Centre. Would you take a split of the series? Based on what has transpired this week, I sure would.
Puig, who hit .436 with seven home runs and 16 runs batted in in June and who set a Dodgers rookie record with 44 hits (considering the rookies the Dodgers have had through the years, that is remarkable) came into the series with the Jays locked in a funk. Wednesday, he went 3-for-5 with a walk, two runs and two runs batted in and hit his first home run since July 1. The full package was on display: awesome power and defence and at times a remarkable incoherence to his game, such as a “pimped” double on ball he believed was over the fence.
The Dodgers have won 23 of 28 games. Puig has saved Mattingly’s job and changed the dynamic around the team, setting the table for a remarkable comeback and building a bridge until the likes of Hanley Ramirez became fully engaged in the season. Tim Wallach, the Dodgers third base coach and a person not given to empty platitudes, puts it simply.
“We were in a rut and he (Puig) lifted everybody out of it,” said Wallach, the former Gold Glove third baseman with the Montreal Expos. “Pretty much everything he’s done here has been done at full speed, and I think what happened is he woke up some people in this clubhouse. Some of the older guys, I think, looked at what he was doing and how he was doing it and thought: ‘Hey, this guy’s making me look bad.
“He just changed the energy in this room. Totally. From the minute he walked in, it was different.”
And so count the Blue Jays as another team having seen Puig up close. The Blue Jays haven’t had a home-grown player like him in some time – Alex Rios and Vernon Wells were something else at times, but not on his level. And never mind having a young guy come in and energize the Blue Jays – right now, it’s going to to be to one of the clubhouse veterans to pull off that trick. Just don’t ask me who it’s going to be.