If Yasiel Puig thought about it long enough, he might remember the last
time he hit a home run to win a baseball game.
Perhaps one day back in his native Cuba he got a hold of a fastball and deposited it over the fence, then danced around the bases with that unmistakable, excitable bounce while his teammates waited at home plate to celebrate with him.
If so he was probably just a kid, the memory now faded like so many photographs in a scrapbook tucked away in the corner of a closet.
Certainly he hasn't done it since fleeing Cuba and landing in the hearts of Los Angeles, a 22-year-old man-child who's injected life into the once-listless Dodgers while capturing the imagination of baseball fans across the country.
All of which makes what happened Sunday when he abruptly ended the Dodgers' pitching duel against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium with a mammoth 11th-inning home run into the left field pavilion so remarkable.
Amid the excitement of his first big-league walk-off home run to send the Dodgers to a 1-0 win -- their 26th over their last 32 games -- Puig had enough clarity to handle the moment with intelligence.
As the obvious thoughts ran through his head -- "That my team won and we got further space from Arizona in the standings," he remembers -- he managed to inject some common sense.
So, as he approached his 25 or so elated Dodgers teammates waiting for him at home plate, Puig did something extraordinary.
He slid into home.
He didn't jump. He didn't run through it. He didn't rip off his helmet and toss it in the air.
He just broke into a slide as if trying to beat a throw into second base.
Why, you ask?
Turns out in all the excitement of hitting the dramatic home run and of saving the Dodgers from their Los Angeles team-record 20 strikeouts -- three of which were his -- and outlasting a formidable Reds' team on a day when the bats were nearly silent, Puig had the wherewithal to remember what happened to a former teammate of his in Cuba who once hit a walk-off home run.
He leaped high into the air upon reaching home plate only to return back to earth awkwardly.
"And hurt his ankle," Puig explained.
Puig wasn't about to let something like that happen.
"So I decided to slide," he said.
Just when you think you've seen -- or heard -- it all with the Dodgers' young sensation, he does something even more astonishing.
On Sunday, that was pocketing the frustration of three previous strikeouts to orbit a Curtis Partch off-speed pitch deep over the left-field fence.
In the process, astonishing Dodgers manager Don Mattingly -- who was skeptical Puig would match up well against Partch's nasty slider.
"That guy's slider, I thought, he doesn't have a very good chance here," Mattingly said. "And all of a sudden " "
On the Dodgers bench, his teammates had a bit more faith.
"We probably call (a home run) every time he comes up, but there were a number of us that said 'he's going deep here,' Dodgers starting pitcher Chris Capuano said. "And he came through."
In doing so the Dodgers won their third consecutive game and improved to 9-1 since the All-Star break to leap ahead of second-place Arizona by 2 1/2 games.
Their 26-6 record since June 22 matches their best 32-game stretch since moving to Los Angeles, equaling the 1977 Dodgers who went on to win the National League West.
The shutout -- buoyed by Capuano's 6 2/3 strong innings and the scoreless relief work of Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen and Brandon League -- was the 11th this year for the Dodgers, who have won their last seven one-run games.
League, continuing a stunning turnaround since losing his closer's job, won for the third time this week by tossing two effective innings. His re-emergence has helped solidify the Dodgers' once shaky bullpen, and for the moment turned a potential weakness into a strength.
"His stuff looks great right now, it has the last few outings," Capuano said of League. "He's just such a great teammate and a great guy and it's nice to see him get some success."
And then there was Puig, whose frustration obviously mounted with each strikeout. His third resulting in a long, hard look at home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski.
Only to confidently strut back into the batter's box in the 11th and end the long afternoon with his 10th home run of the season.
"You put your at-bats behind you, every single time," Puig said. "What's in the past is in the past and you give it your best each time you come up."
Culminating, of course, with his slide into home plate.
"Each player does what he can when he gets to the plate," Puig said, grinning. "Some people jump, some people slide, some people run."
Puig, it turns out, slides.
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