By Steven Lieberman
On Sunday, since it was Cuban Heritage Day at Dodger Stadium, right-fielder Yasiel Puig decided not to disappoint his fellow Cuban fans.
He delivered a game-winning, tiebreaking, solo home run – his 14th of the season - in the sixth inning to hand the Dodgers a 2-1 win and a three-game sweep of the Padres.
To make it even more special, Puig delivered the homer on the first pitch, something he is known to do. Since his debut on June 3, he’s batting .350 with 32 RBI. A phenomenal feat in only 79 games.
That home run gave pitcher Zack Greinke his sixth win in a row and a record of 14-3 with a 2.78 ERA. Also an accomplished hitting-pitcher, Silver Slugger candidate Greinke, batting .347, hit a single and even stole his second base of the season, the first Dodgers pitcher to do so since Orel Hershiser in 1987.
He said he’s never been more consistent with his pitch location. “I just don’t want to waste all the good starts now. I’m just trying to keep things where they are and improve on the stuff that’s not working as good as I want it to be.”
The Dodgers ended the day leading the division by 11 ½ games, are 34-8 since the All-Star break and 51-13 since June 22.
“A 20-game swing is almost unheard of,” said manager Don Mattingly, whose team trailed by 9 ½ games June 21. “But the only way to do it is to do what we’ve done. Our guys grind it pretty good, relentless from the standpoint of being ready to play every day and putting wins on the board.”
Through an interpreter, Puig said “of course, everybody is very excited about the playoffs.” His fairy-tale, debut season continues to delight the fans.
When Dodger MVP-candidate, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was asked about how the Dodgers have improved, he said “pitching wins. Easy answer. You get to the playoffs, you don’t win by just hitting the ball.”
Alongside Greinke, the Dodgers have star-quality pitching in Clayton Kershaw (13-8, league-leading ERA of 1.72), recently acquired Brian “The Beard” Wilson and Ricky Nolasco, top rookie starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and elite closer Kenley Jansen (24 saves), who racked-up his 17th consecutive save on Sunday.
“Obviously, pitching is really what this thing is built on,” said Mattingly. “We have big names in the lineup, but what Stan [Kasten, president] talked about coming in, pitching is what does it. It’s not as glamorous, but that’s how you win 2-1, 1-0, 3-2.”
With a season record of 81-55, the second best in the Major Leagues under the Braves, the Dodgers are making a strong push toward the playoffs with World Series-caliber performances.
And let us thank Puig again for lighting the fuse that helped this team rise from the ashes.