Back in LA, late-arriving Puig homers off Kershaw
LOS ANGELES — Better late than never.
While Yasiel Puig arrived at Dodger Stadium too late to receive his National League championship ring, he was just in time to hit a two-run homer off Clayton Kershaw in his first at bat against his former team.
Puig was greeted with cheers as he approached the plate, and Dodgers fans chanted his name as he ran the bases.
Puig — who arrived roughly 70 minutes late to a news conference that was supposed to begin at 3 p.m. PT — said, in Spanish before the game, that he “might cry” if he heard Dodgers fans who supported him so ardently during his six-year stint in L.A. chant his name again before his first at-bat.
“I haven’t seen the games; I don’t know how many people, how many fans, have been coming here,” Puig said of Dodger Stadium, while answering one of several questions in Spanish. “But I’m sure that when I played here, there were more fans.”
Puig was a key igniter at Dodger Stadium from 2013 to 2018, a tumultuous time that began with exhilarating performances, phased into mediocrity and was accentuated by extremities. Puig energized the fans with his talent and flamboyance but often vexed the members of his organization with his recklessness, which manifested itself both on and off the field.
It was fitting, then, that Puig missed the ceremony to welcome him and the other former Dodgers involved in the trade that sent Puig to the Cincinnati Reds back to L.A. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was joined by owner Mark Walter, CEO Stan Kasten and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman outside the visiting clubhouse on Monday afternoon. Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer received their new jewelry there and made small talk.
“Puig didn’t make it,” Roberts said behind a wry smile.
Puig, Kemp, Wood and Farmer were all greeted with a tribute video before the game Monday night.
Roberts, who has had pleasant exchanges with Puig since the trade, said he expected the fans to provide Puig with a standing ovation.
“As well they should,” he said. “This guy did a lot of things in the community and helped the Dodgers do a lot of good things.”
Puig entered the series with a .163/.200/.302 slash line in 45 plate appearances for a Reds team that had won only five times in its first 14 games. But Roberts, who activated Kershaw off the injured list to start this game, expects Puig’s best this week.
“When he’s motivated, incentivized, he’s a very good player,” Roberts said. “This is as much motivation as can be in front of him.”
Puig dazzled early on, posting a .305/.386/.502 slash line while displaying elite defense and infectious energy from 2013 to 2014, a stretch in which he made the All-Star team and nearly won the NL Rookie of the Year award. From 2015 to 2016, Puig was limited to 183 games. From 2017 to 2018, his slash line fell to .264/.337/.490.
During a news conference that lasted roughly 15 minutes, Puig spoke glowingly about the comradery that exists within the Reds’ clubhouse. He mentioned the young players who constantly ask him questions and seem to admire him. He talked about all the meals they share together and how often they text off the field. He called Joey Votto “the best guy I’ve ever met in my life.” And he hinted, quite strongly, about how he didn’t have enough of that with the Dodgers.
“That’s one of the most beautiful things I have with my new team,” Puig said in Spanish. “This support, and to be by each other’s side every day and talking in the locker room, on the bus, on the flight, on the field, off the field, we always have good communication, and that’s what makes me not feel as much nostalgia as you might think I would feel for the Dodgers.”
After 40 minutes went by in a quiet interview room prior to Puig’s news conference, Reds vice president of media relations Rob Butcher approached the dais to announce that Puig had yet to arrive, drawing a chuckle from the media contingent.
“I don’t know what else I can tell you folks,” Butcher said. “I’m sorry.”
About half an hour later, shortly after Roberts completed his session in the home dugout, Puig arrived in the interview room wearing a black T-shirt in honor of Jackie Robinson. He was told by a Spanish-speaking reporter that the media had been awaiting his arrival.
Puig slumped his shoulders.
“I was hoping they’d all leave.”