Yasiel Puig takes the criticism, taunting in stride, takes away lessons

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Everything is magnified in the playoffs, and you could tell just by the Yasiel Puig criticism. For us Dodger fans, Puig really didn’t do anything all that odd in the postseason, but I had him ranked as a ’10′ twice in the panic ratings for a reason.

Puig had a great NLDS, had a great NLCS at home, and had a miserable NLCS on the road. He made great defensive plays, he made dumb fielding plays (no baserunning errors though, weird), and he celebrated a bunch. None of this is new, yet everybody around the nation decided this was BRAND NEW INFORMATION that they had to concern troll over, as if even fans of Puig and the Dodgers didn’t know that he was prone to doing detrimental things from time to time.

After the game, Don Mattingly said the work to improve Puig for 2014 begins now.

“Sitting there watching it tonight, and it’s what we’ve kind of watched all year long, it’s like you don’t have time to work on it, really,” Mattingly said. “You kind of go over it and you try to teach. You just continue to try to teach. Not just him, but all of us, really, you know? Yasiel gets excited. He’s going to try to make plays all the time, and that’s the way he is. But we’ve got to do a better job, I think, of helping him to mature and understand what we want done and the way to do it.”

On the Internet, the puzzling reaction to this quote from Cardinals & Giants writers/fans was ‘WELL ABOUT TIME’. Puzzling because if you’ve been following the season at all, you’d know it’s been an ongoing effort the whole time.

It’s what we’ve kind of watched all year long.

I mean, it’s right there in the comment.

I’ve written about it since June, other Dodger bloggers did so as well, and ESPN wrote an article in August about literally EVERY cut-off man he missed, as well as about his all-or-nothing style of play. Jon Paul Morosi concern trolled in July and then again a month later, yet we’re supposed to pretend that Puig making mistakes is some newfangled breaking story to fans and media?

Everybody knows that, and everybody has known that. Puig’s just generally been more valuable to the team than not, so nobody is going to pretend he’s the worst player ever. And fairly or unfairly, the team still rose and fell with his production, even in the NLCS. Some will look at that as an indictment of Puig, a 22-year-old rookie, but it’s far more of an indictment of the rest of the team’s production.

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Back in reality and within the discussion on practical matters, Mattingly’s talking about the future, not the past. Mattingly, much like statements by Skip Schumaker and Michael Young, acknowledges that work is needed but that even though he’s willing to learn, it’s too late to try to teach him everything in the playoffs.

“That’s the learning. He has to learn. It’s tough to learn,” said ex-Cardinal Skip Schumaker, now a Dodgers reserve outfielder. Schumaker obviously has been exposed to both clubhouse cultures. “But very rarely do you see him make the same mistake twice. You say, ‘Go in hard on someone and don’t veer off,’ the next time he goes in hard on someone. It’s not frustrating because he does soak it in.”

Young is one of many of Puig’s teammates who have tried to explain to him why people react to him the way they react.

“And you know what? He’s very receptive,” Young said. “He’s like, ‘OK, OK, I understand. I get it.’ That’s just the way he’s always played baseball. He played it not just in a different country, but almost like a different world. It’s not like he grew up in the Dominican or Puerto Rico. He grew up in a lot different world than any of us.”

So one of these days, when he isn’t 22 anymore, and when he has played more baseball in this land, in this world, maybe this won’t be how he goes about it. And maybe then, everyone — not just the occupants of Dodger Stadium — will learn to appreciate the joy and the talent instead of focusing on that other stuff.

But that time isn’t this time. So there’s no use in any of us getting any more worked up about this now than we got in June or July or August. All that matters, for Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers, right now is that there’s an NLCS to be won — and it’s now a lot more winnable than it was 24 hours ago.

“He’ll learn,” Young said. “But right now, in a postseason series, I want him to play exactly the way he feels most comfortable. The last thing I want him to do is start thinking about peeling back his emotions — in Game 4 of the NLCS.”

At the point they were at, it was what it was, for better or worse. Now though, the work can begin, and hopefully he does come back next season with all the celebrating and all the excitement, but just tweaks to the decision-making, the fine print.

Puig himself is not unaware of this. When asked what he learned in 2013, he said through an interpreter, “The one thing that stood out was that every run, every at-bat, every play in the field is very important. You have to make sure you do your best each chance you get.

Video Via Tony Jackson

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As far as the celebrations go, Puig got a lot of grief for it, but not once did he ever address a Cardinals player directly. He celebrated a lot … to himself, which is appropriate considering he thinks he’s the best player ever (which I don’t mind). Yet, even when directly taunted by the opposing team, he never responded in kind.

Puig’s Tuesday offense was dramatizing a high, inside fourth-inning pitch from Lance Lynn. Some Cardinals lit into him so loudly after Tuesday’s ninth-inning double play that others in uniform called them off the rail.

Scully said he was astonished to look toward the St. Louis dugout in Game 5, with Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig about to take his first at-bat. Scully said he saw the entire Cardinals team lined up along the rail, mimicking and exaggerating the gestures Puig had made in the on-deck circle.

“It was like a chorus line,” said Scully, a Dodgers broadcaster since 1950. “I had never seen that.”

He has fun and dishes it out, but he can take it, so what’s the issue? He’s been booed a lot this year because of the hype surrounding him, and he seems to enjoy it and take that in stride as well, so I don’t see the issue here. Ironically, maybe the opposition can take a page out of their own maturity handbook and practice what they preach if they expect better out of Puig?

Nah, like with ‘the right way’ book on celebrations, that would require not having double standards and not being hypocrites. Expecting athletics to involve logic? Good luck with changing that culture.

For his part, Vin didn’t seem to care much about the theatrics.

“They’re just having fun,” Scully said before Friday’s Game 6 of the National League championship series. “I would hate to see a game where there wasn’t any emotion. I like to see it. I think the fans enjoy it. I would love to see more.”

The Cardinals have chirped about the gestures of Puig and Adrian Gonzalez. Scully noted that Hanley Ramirez has made his “I See You” sign after a big hit since he joined the Dodgers last year, without stirring a national debate.

“You hit a game-winning home run and the other team says you’re trying to show them up?” Scully said. “God almighty.”

So that’s the final word on that. Others can feel free to continue to call those who don’t mind the celebrations ‘enablers‘, just acknowledge Scully is among them. I’m fine with being in his company, personally.

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At the end of the day, there’s still plenty of chapters left for Puig to write. A lot of people really seem to be missing that point, but it doesn’t surprise me given that they’ve also missed out on the ground he’s already covered and the ground he knows himself that he still has to cover.

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