ST. LOUIS -- Slowly, Yasiel Puig walked back to the dugout, another opportunity lost. He watched from there as Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning of National League Championship Series Game 2 on Saturday, half-dancing, half-hopping off the mound. A few yards away, Yadier Molina was pumping his fist, keeping rhythm to Wacha's tune.
The crowd was roaring. But back in the dugout, the faces around Puig offered a different perspective of a frustrating 1-0 Dodgers loss, which saw the rookie whiff four times in the middle of Los Angeles' lineup.
"It happens in the game," Puig said through an interpreter. "It's happened before. The pitchers were really good today and they struck me out four times."
Though the Dodgers created more than a single scoring chance in Game 2, nothing was as promising as what unfolded in the sixth, when Clayton Kershaw punched an inning-opening single into left field. With his team trailing by a run, Kershaw motored all the way to third when Matt Carpenter committed a throwing error on Carl Crawford's infield single, attempting to throw Kershaw out at second. Crawford also moved into scoring position on the play, prompting the Cardinals to intentionally walk Adrian Gonzalez after recording an out.
That brought up Puig, who was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on the day and 0-for-7 with four whiffs on the series. Having a devil of a time squaring up Wacha's changeup, Puig had swung and missed at a quarter of the pitches he had seen up to that point.
As if on cue, the Dodgers outfielder came up empty on Wacha's first offering with the bases loaded, a 95-mph fastball. Suddenly abandoning his changeup, Wacha continued to attack Puig with fastballs from there, running the count full before punching him out on a low-and-inside heater, his sixth in a row.
Puig walked back to the dugout, silent, then watched as Wacha also whiffed Juan Uribe to strand the bases loaded.
"I didn't really have a single approach just for Puig," Wacha said. "My approach all night was just to attack him and make quality pitches against him. Make them effective pitches, throw the offspeed in any count. That was the way we approached all the hitters, really."
It worked. With men on second and third base and no outs, all the Dodgers needed was one run to tie the Cardinals and keep their once-vibrant pennant hopes strong. Instead, they received zero, and Puig's four strikeouts were a significant reason why.
"It comes down to a young pitcher being put on the big stage in high-leverage [situations]," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, "and making pitches."
Puig agreed with that assessment, noting that the Cardinals have "really good pitchers … and a catcher that really knows what he's doing." Regarding his sixth-inning at-bat, Puig contended that home-plate umpire Mark Carlson called several earlier strikes that he considered out of the zone, so he figured he would be aggressive.
The result was unsuccessful enough to prompt questions about Puig's approach, which has been similarly aggressive throughout his rookie season. Even teammate Hanley Ramirez, who did not play in Game 2 due to injury, said he planned to talk to Puig about his at-bats.
Still, Puig's aggression is what made him one of baseball's most electric players this summer. If the Dodgers want to find their footing in Game 3 Monday night (8 ET/5 PT on TBS), they will need Puig to harness it.
"Obviously he's frustrated," manager Don Mattingly said. "Yadier back there does a good job of yo-yoing him, showing him enough breaking balls and showing him the fastball, and then it's back to the breaking ball. That's where we see his inexperience kind of come up, how to handle what's going on and what he's looking for. But him at any moment, any swing has a chance to tie that game up or be a big hit."