LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Whether hitting or missing, Los Angeles Dodgers sensation Yasiel Puig is determined to keep swinging.
The young Cuban demonstrated why when he turned early disappointment into another magical chapter by blasting a walk-off home run in the 11th inning on Sunday.
His sky-scraping homer gave Los Angeles a memorable 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Dodgers Stadium, extending the torrid run of the Dodgers (56-48) and their carefree rookie.
Puig had struck out three times swinging before the homer and the Dodgers had accumulated a club-record 20 strikeouts.
None of that mattered once Puig stepped into the batter’s box in the 11th, delivered a massive blow and soaked up his first ever game-winning drive.
“You put your at-bats behind you every single time,” Puig told reporters through a translator. “What’s in the past is in the past and you give it your best each time you come back up.”
Puig’s best is turning out to be shockingly good, with his debut hardly leveling off from the historic month of June that took the Major Leagues by storm.
The 22-year-old is batting .372 with 10 home runs; and even though he occasionally plays like a kid who does not know his own strength, he is balancing unpredictable moments with strong resolve.
“He’s going to keep swinging, that’s for sure,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. “He’s still got a lot of game to work on but there are going to be continued adjustments that need to be made.”
As for the Dodgers, they are still climbing, having won 26 of their last 32 games to seize a 2½-game lead atop the National League West.
The Los Angeles clubhouse is stocked full of storylines with Puig chief among them, and thus far his elder team mates do not seem to mind.
“It’s so exciting,” said starting pitcher Chris Capuano. “We probably call it (a home run) every time he comes up but there were a number of us (on Puig’s final at-bat on Sunday) that said ‘He’s going deep right here.’
“A couple days ago in batting practice he hit one out of the stadium, which I’d never seen before.”
Puig pulled off something else rarely seen when he ended his celebratory home run trot by sliding into home plate.
“Each player does what he can when he gets to the plate. Some people jump, some people slide, some people run,” Puig said.
“I’ve had a previous team mate on my Cuban team that jumped and when he landed he hurt his ankle so I decided to slide.”
It was a spontaneous decision made by a free-swinger who plays, and celebrates, without fear of consequence.
Editing by Gene Cherry