LOS ANGELES – Better late than never.
While Yasiel Puig arrived at Dodger Stadium too late to receive his National League championship ring, he arrived just in time to hit a two-run homer off Clayton Kershaw in his first at-bat against his former team.
Puig was greeted with cheers as he approached the plate, and Dodgers fans chanted his name as he ran the bases.
Puig, who arrived approximately 70 minutes late to a press conference that was due to start at 3 p.m. PT – he said, in Spanish before the game, that he "could cry" if he heard the Dodgers fans who supported him so enthusiastically during his six years in L.A. singing his name again before his first at-bat.
"I have not seen the games, I do not know how many people, how many fans have been coming here," Puig said of Dodger Stadium, while answering one of several questions in Spanish. "But I'm sure that when I played here, there were more fans."
Puig was a key lighter at Dodger Stadium from 2013 to 2018, a tumultuous time that began with stimulating performances, became a mediocrity and was accentuated by extremities. Puig energized the fans with his talent and extravagance, but often annoyed the members of his organization with his recklessness, which manifested both on and off the field.
It was appropriate, then, for Puig to miss the ceremony to welcome him and the other former Dodgers involved in the exchange that sent Puig to the Cincinnati Reds to return to Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Baseball operations Andrew Friedman out of the visiting clubhouse on Monday afternoon. Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer received their new jewels there and made small talks.
"Puig did not make it," Roberts said behind a wry smile.
Puig, Kemp, Wood and Farmer were greeted with a tribute video before the game on Monday night.
As he prepares to make his debut in 2019 on Monday, the ace of the Dodgers knows "if you keep hurting … you have to change". That could mean bringing a release that has not been supported often.
Roberts, who has had pleasant exchanges with Puig since the exchange, said he hoped the fans would give Puig a standing ovation.
"As they should," he said. "This guy did a lot of things in the community and he helped the Dodgers do a lot of good things."
Puig entered the series with a .163 / .200 / .302 bar line in 45 plate appearances for a Red team that had won only five times in its first 14 games. But Roberts, who activated Kershaw off the disabled list to start this game, expects Puig to be the best this week.
"When he's motivated, encouraged, he's a very good player," Roberts said. "This is all the motivation that can be in front of him."
Puig dazzled from the start, posting a diagonal bar line of .305 / .386 / .502 while showing the elite defense and infectious energy from 2013 to 2014, a stretch in which he reached the All-Star team and almost won the National League Rookie of the Year award. . From 2015 to 2016, Puig was limited to 183 games. From 2017 to 2018, his bar line fell to .264 / .337 / .490.
During a press conference that lasted approximately 15 minutes, Puig spoke enthusiastically about the camaraderie that exists within the clubhouse of the Reds. He mentioned the young players who constantly ask him questions and seem to admire him. He talked about all the foods they share and the frequency with which they send text messages off the field. He called Joey Votto "the best boy I've ever met". And he hinted, quite strongly, that he did not have enough with the Dodgers.
"That's one of the most beautiful things I have with my new team," Puig said in Spanish. "This support, and being next to each other every day and talking in the locker room, on the bus, on the flight, in the field, off the field, we always have good communication, and that's what makes me feel like A lot of nostalgia that one might think he would feel for the Dodgers. "
After 40 minutes in a quiet interview room before Puig's press conference, Reds vice president of media relations Rob Butcher approached the podium to announce that Puig had not yet arrived, prompting Laughter in the media contingent.
"I do not know what else I can tell you, people," said Butcher. "Sorry."
Approximately half an hour later, shortly after Roberts completed his dugout session at home, Puig arrived in the interview room wearing a black T-shirt in honor of Jackie Robinson. A Spanish-speaking journalist told him that the media awaited his arrival.
Puig collapsed on his shoulders.
"I expected everyone to leave."