The instant after he swung through Adam Wainwright’s fastball, Yasiel Puig flipped his bat to the side and lifted his arms into the air. The Los Angeles Dodgers already led 1-0 in the fourth inning, but trailed the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 in the National League Championship Series and were in desperate need of a spark. The ball bounced off the right field wall, narrowly missing a two-run home run by merely a few feet, so Puig quickly realized that he needed to run. Amazingly, and thanks to his breakneck speed, he made it to third base standing up. Even as he raced toward first base, he kept his left arm high in the air. And before he touched third base, he was already smacking his hands together and pumping his right fist.
As my colleague Dave Sheinin so aptly described it, the hit was surely the most outrageous, most athletic, most pimped-out triple the baseball postseason has ever witnessed. I have no reason to disagree. But what makes less sense is the fake outrage over Puig’s antics and celebration. Sure, he has a history of showboating, perhaps even loafing and being, well, every bit of a 22-year-old rookie, who is relatively new to the United States. Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran, an understated star and veteran, had some choice, but measured, words for Puig.
“As a player, I think he doesn’t know,” Beltran said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I think he still thinks he’s playing somewhere else. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that, a lot of talent. I think with time he will learn that sometimes you have to be a little more calm, not only with not showing up the other team, but with the umpires, and the way he plays the game.”
This situation, however, was different.
The Dodgers needed offense, after going 24 innings without a run. They were playing with a hobbled Andre Ethier in center and heavily medicated Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. They faced a large deficit in the NLCS. They had gotten little postseason production from Puig, the energetic right fielder who sparked them when he was called up this summer; he had gone 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts up to that point. Also, this is the playoffs. October is supposed to be dramatic, fun and wild. How is this not the moment to celebrate and showboat a crucial and exciting hit in an important postseason game?
Regardless of the setting, what is wrong with emotion? As long as the celebrations aren’t directed at the other team — a hitter pointing at opponents or their dugout, or staring down pitchers — what is wrong with celebrating an exciting play or hit? If the pitcher doesn’t want to get shown up, don’t throw a bad pitch. Does a hitter have a right to be upset if a pitcher strikes him out in a crucial spot and then pumps his fists violently on the mound?
Why do we want to deprive baseball of some of its most exciting moments? In a sport in which the pace of games are slowing, and some may complain that games are filled with brief spurts of action followed by long lulls, why not play up the few exciting instances with flair?
More than anything, Puig makes himself look foolish for celebrating a hit that wasn’t a home run. And he did it so soon after he swung, depriving himself of the chance to see where the ball would land. Maybe if he had held off for a few seconds and seen the ball go over the fence, he could have been pumping his fists as he rounded the bases. Or, as it turned out, he could have celebrated with exuberant fist pumps and hand gestures after he reached third base. He wasted time — and effort — by showboating the first few seconds. That, however, makes him look silly and no one else. He did not point back at Wainwright or make any gestures at Cardinals players or their bench.
Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers respected first baseman, did some jubilating of his own after reaching base on a double in that same inning. He made wild hand gestures at his team’s dugout after sliding into second base. Wainwright said he didn’t see Puig’s reactions, but he did notice Gonzalez’s. “I saw Adrian doing some Mickey Mouse stuff at second,” Wainwright said. While he didn’t flip his bat, Gonzalez certainly showboated his hit while at second base. But because Gonzalez doesn’t have the reputation that Puig does, his actions are given a pass.
Let’s hope fun moments can stay fun, and excitement can remain respectful yet feel natural and unrestrained.
ALCS Game 3, Boston at Detroit, 4 p.m., Fox, WSPZ (570 AM). Probables: RHP John Lackey (10-13, 3.52 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA)
Tigers lineup: Austin Jackson CF, Torii Hunter RF, Miguel Cabrera 3B, Prince Fielder 1B, Victor Martinez C, Peralta SS, Alex Avila C, Omar Infante 2B, Dirks LF.
Red Sox lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury CF, Shane Victorino RF, Dustin Pedroia 2B, David Ortiz DH, Napoli 1B, Saltalamacchia C, Gomes LF, Stephen Drew SS, Will Middlebrooks 3B.
NLCS Game 4, St. Louis at Los Angeles, 8 p.m., TBS, WTEM (980 AM). Probables: RHP Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70 ERA) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97 ERA)