The Los Angeles Dodgers crashed and burned on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinals eliminated them from the postseason with a 9-0 drubbing in Game 6 of the NLCS. Less than an hour after the Dodgers' promising season was over, manager Don Mattingly had strong words for his right fielder, indicating that polarizing figure Yasiel Puig has plenty of growing up to do.
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"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. ... 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 mature and understand what we want done and the way to do it."
During Friday's season-ending loss, Puig made two bad throws in the third inning that directly led to Cardinals' runs. He also booted a base hit by Yadier Molina to start the fifth inning, in which the Cardinals scored five times. But his poor play in the finale is hardly the most alarming trend with Puig. It's his preceived lack of respect for the game is making waves.
The 22-year old drew widespread criticism during Game 3 of the NLCS when he celebrated prematurely on a drive to right. Puig flipped his bat aggressively and raised his arms while watching the ball thump off the top of the wall. Despite walking out of the batter's box, Puig still managed a triple, further celebrating at third base. The incident came in the fourth inning of a scoreless game, with the Dodgers trailing 2-0 in the series. Though it sparked a Dodgers win, the bat-flip was burned into memory and afterward, veteran Carlos Beltran offered choice words for the rookie.
"As a player, I just think he doesn't know (how to act)," Beltran said after Game 3. "That's what I think. He really doesn't know. He must think that he's still playing somewhere else."
Beltran wasn't the only individual bothered by Puig's actions during the series. Members of the umpiring crew reportedly did not appreciate Puig's reactions to balls and strikes calls. During Game 5, home plate umpire Ted Barrett rung Puig up on a called third strike and the rookie stood in the box staring at Barrett. According to MLB.com, the umpires felt Puig "crossed the line."
Mattingly and the rest of the Dodgers major league coaching staff now have a full offseason to curtail Puig's exuberance. It bears mentioning that this time last year, a 21-year-old Puig was finishing his first American professional season in the minors at Rancho Cucamonga in the California League.
After signing a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Dodgers on June 29, 2012, Puig flew through the Dodgers system and announced his presence by hitting .517 in 27 spring training games. He amassed just 63 minor league games before the Dodgers summoned him in June to help their struggling major league team. In 104 games with the Dodgers this season, Puig hit .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs, 42 RBI and a WAR of 5.0.
Puig proved he is more than physically ready to compete in the majors, as he helped guide Los Angeles to the playoffs. But on the biggest stage, in front of a national audience, the 22-year old's antics overshadowed his play.