USA Today Sports
LOS ANGELES -- He may have been stylishly late, but right fielder Yasiel Puig showed up to the playoff party Monday night, and let everyone know that the Los Angeles Dodgers have no plans to leave anytime soon.
The Dodgers, behind the theatrics of Puig, leveled the St. Louis Cardinals and their ace, 3-0, in front of a sellout crowd of 53,940 at Dodger Stadium, and just like that, we have ourselves an honest-to-goodness series in the NLCS.
The Dodgers still trail the Cardinals, 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven series, but they certainly achieved the goal they had in mind.
Their mantra, Dodgers outfielder Jerry Hairston said, was to make sure they could get the ball to aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke one more time apiece.
Mission is accomplished, particularly if the Dodgers decide to go with Greinke on short rest in Game 4 on Tuesday instead of Ricky Nolasco. Kershaw, who threw just 72 pitchers in his last start, and had a brief 25-pitch bullpen session Monday, certainly is available for Game 5.
The pitchers wouldn't divulge whether they've been asked to go on short rest, but the simple threat of their 1-2 punch returning over the next two days may delay the Cardinals' trip to that liquor store for those celebratory champagne bottles.
Certainly, there's no need to buy any ice, the Cardinals just need to put those bottles on their bats.
The Cardinals have scored just two runs in their last 27 innings, and four runs this series, with Dodgers rookie Hyun-Jim Ryu impersonating a Cy Young winner himself. He became the first Dodger to pitch seven shutout innings in a postseason game since Jerry Reuss in 1981, yielding just three hits. The Cardinals were no-hit through the first four innings, and had just four hits the entire game, without a single baserunner reach third base.
If the Cardinals ever do reach third base again, who can blame them if they steal a page out of Puig's celebration handbook?
There have been plenty of wild home-run celebrations in our time, but no one can quite remember antics as zany as Puig with his fourth-inning triple off Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, scoring the game's second run.
Puig, with Adrian Gonzalez on second base after his run-scoring double ended their drought of 22 scoreless innings, drilled Wainwright's fastball off the right-field wall.
He flung his bat, threw his arms high into the air, and celebrated.
One little problem.
The ball didn't clear the fence. It bounced off the wall, and suddenly, Puig was forced to run Usain Bolt. As the ball caromed past right fielder Carlos Beltran, Puig sped into third base, and pulled out his celebratory repertoire. There were the first pumps. The arms thrust high into the air. The primal scream.
It was a thing of beauty, well, at least for a fourth-inning triple.
Surely, the Cardinals will remember it, but that's vengeance for another day.
Hey, Puig can argue, when you haven't gotten a hit all series, striking out seven times in 11 at-bats, maybe a little excessive celebration is harmless?
And, just to prove it was no fluke, Puig singled in his next at-bat in the seventh.
This time, there was no celebration.
Yet, after the game, it was the Dodgers who celebrated Puig's return, realizing the impact he could have the rest of the series.
"I'm sure he [was] feeling pressure to do something,'' Dodgers manager Mattingly said before the game. "The one thing we know about Yasiel is it's never going to be because he's not trying to do something.
"I know he's giving us everything he has.''
Certainly, his energy fueled the Dodgers, and although the Cardinals still lead this series, they could use a shot of that Yasiel fuel.
The Cardinals' offense has vanished. In the first three games of this series, the Dodgers' starting rotation has given up just six hits and two earned runs in 21 innings, striking out 18.
"We have a sense of urgency, I believe, all of the time,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "There's really nothing different to do. ...Right now, it's just play the game, keep going, keep your head down. But we learned last year is just how fragile this is, and how quickly it can get away from you.''
Indeed, a year ago, the Cardinals had a 3-1 lead over the San Francisco Giants, and went home three games later in the NLCS.
They badly need an infusion of offense to avoid an ugly encore.