LOS ANGELES -- Like him or hate him, Yasiel Puig is back.
On a night when the Dodgers struggled to make any offensive headway against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, ultimately losing Game 4, 4-2, to fall into a 3-1 series hole, Puig generated nearly all the offensive highlights.
As though his RBI triple in Game 3 flipped a switch, Puig was everything the Dodgers typically celebrate him to be: electric, indomitable, invaluable. Throughout one of the more somber evenings Chavez Ravine has seen this year, Puig was a consistent bright spot.
Criticized throughout this postseason for his lack of patience at the plate, Puig walked on five pitches in his first at-bat, even ignoring a 2-1 fastball that threatened to skim the zone's outer edge. In the fourth, after Cardinals starter Lance Lynn buzzed him with a first-pitch heater, Puig singled back up the middle to plate the Dodgers' first run, and responded with his typical celebratory theatrics. He singled again in the sixth, reaching base safely for the fifth consecutive plate appearance.
"He's playing great," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "I'm happy for him showing the talent that he is, with the energy he brings to the ballpark. It's definitely fun to have him on our side and playing with us."
Between Games 3 and 4, Puig ranked among the sporting world's most hotly debated topics. Supporters lauded the life he injected into a stagnant Dodgers offense, boosting Los Angeles with his rare combination of speed and power. Critics argued that his on-field celebrations -- particularly his showboating after that critical RBI triple in Game 3 -- violated the game's unwritten code of conduct. Cardinals players poured kerosene on the issue by openly criticizing Puig after the game.
All the while the Dodgers defended their rookie teammate, noting that Puig's in-game production was all that really mattered. To that end, Puig has reached base in five of his last six plate appearances since beginning the NLCS 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts.
He has also celebrated whenever possible -- and because of it, there was some thought that Lynn's up-and-in pitch in the fourth inning was a message. But with two runners already on base in a two-run game, Lynn stated the obvious.
"When you have nobody out and runners on first and second, you're definitely not trying to hit anyone or throw the ball up and in to load the bases," Lynn said. "So there was definitely no intent there."