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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Being himself is what makes Puig special

Being himself is what makes Puig special

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

How about we just accept that Yasiel Puig is going to play the game a certain way? How about we just enjoy the amazing ride this kid is taking us on? If playing with emotion and joy and recklessness is an issue for some, maybe it's more about them than him.

OK, let's retrace our steps. When the 22-year-old Puig made his Major League debut on June 3, the Dodgers were a mess. They were 23-32 and in last place in the National League West.

Injuries had gutted the roster. Manager Don Mattingly seemingly was about to be dismissed. Things weren't great in the clubhouse, either.

The Dodgers had absolutely no idea what they were getting when they threw the Cuban rookie into the starting lineup on June 3. They just knew things couldn't get any worse.

Looking back on it now, all the good things that have happened to the Dodgers since -- 40-8 since June 22 -- started right there.

"Baseball is never about one guy," general manager Ned Colletti said, "but, yeah, it began with him. He brought us so much energy."

That's one of the things to remember as you watch Puig play. Yes, he runs the bases carelessly at times. Yes, he'll occasionally do something that will annoy an opponent or a teammate. Like flipping his bat onto the infield grass after drawing a walk. Hey, maybe baseball's long, complicated and occasionally ridiculous book of unwritten rules was never on the bestseller list in Cuba.

Have you seen what has happened to the Dodgers since Puig arrived? They've had baseball's best 48-game stretch in 71 years and turned a 9 1/2-game deficit into a 7 1/2-game lead in the NL West.

Guess what else has happened? Southern California has fallen hard for this kid. Puig might be the most popular Dodgers player since Fernando Valenzuela. This franchise, which seemed on a downward spiral two years ago, is leading the Major Leagues in attendance. Every game is an event.

The fans are turning out because dozens of things have fallen into place. From Hanley Ramirez and Gonzalez to Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, from those incredibly productive bench players to a bullpen that is suddenly airtight. When teams go 40-8, it's never one thing. It's great players performing at a high level. It's a manager keeping them focused in one direction.

Again, though, all of this, every last bit of it, started with Yasiel Puig. In his 63 games, he has dazzled us. Puig is hitting .368, but that's just the beginning. He's hitting with power and making a difference on defense, too.

Did you see him throw out Marlon Byrd during Wednesday's victory over the Mets? After 2 1/2 months, the kid still does things that take your breath away.

Puig has already inserted himself into the NL Most Valuable Player Award debate? Yeah, after 63 games.

He's up to 17th on BaseballReference.com's Wins Above Replacement ranking, tied with Jay Bruce and an eyelash behind Hanley Ramirez and Yadier Molina. He leads the Major Leagues in an assortment of offensive categories -- batting average, hits, runs -- since he arrived.

Puig's batting average is the highest for a rookie with at least 250 plate appearances in 82 years, according to Stats, LLC, and he has 28 multihit games in 60 starts. He batted .436 in June and .287 in July. Puig is hitting .383 in August. Mattingly has batted him first, second and fourth, and Puig has been productive anywhere he hits.

Could Puig do some things better? Yes, absolutely. He might not want to show up teammates on the field. And as Colletti said, he might want to figure out why there's a warning track. Otherwise, something bad could happen.

And then again, maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe if you're going to take the line drives and laser throws, if you're going to accept the sheer joy Puig brings to his job every single day, we're all going to have to accept that it's part of who he is.

Baseball clubhouses have at times had trouble accepting flamboyant players. Maybe this kid from Cuba -- where baseball fans are loud and demonstrative, where it's not like tennis -- just knows one way.

How about we accept that Puig is never going to behave the way Derek Jeter behaves? To tone him down might take away some of the things that make him special, and no one should want to do that.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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