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Yasiel Puig a Dodgers catalyst in first 2 games of NLDS

LA is up 2-0 in series heading to Phoenix.

Divisional Round - Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — What a difference two weeks made for Yasiel Puig, who has helped energize the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first two games of their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Puig was 3-for-4 in Game 2 on Saturday, driving in two runs in the Dodgers’ 8-5 win in Los Angeles, putting them one win away from a return trip to the National League Championship Series.

His fourth-inning single loaded the bases, but given Puig’s reaction one might assume the Dodgers just finished a walk-off win:

That bat flip came one night after Puig both licked his bat before hitting a double, then delivered this tongue-not-in-cheek salute to his teammates in the third base dugout after hitting a triple.

“I see my teammates so excited on the bench, and I don't know,” Puig explained, laughing. “I thought there was maybe ice cream in front of me or something like that.”

Puig is 5-for-9 with a double and a triple through the first two games of the NLDS, and he’s driven in four runs. That kind of performance will have the crowd chanting your name, as the Dodger Stadium faithful did on Saturday night.

“I was talking with the coaches, and this is as good as we’ve seen him focus on every single pitch in the game,” manager Dave Roberts said of his right fielder. “When you combine that with the skill set that he has, and the energy that he brings, he doesn’t only energize 50,000 people, he energizes everyone in the clubhouse.

“When he’s in the box, making plays with his arm, his glove, and on the bases, it’s exciting.”

After a pair of injury-plagued seasons in 2015-16, plus a demotion to Triple-A last year, Puig rebounded quite well in 2017. He hit .263/.346/.487, led the team with 152 games played, and set career highs in home runs (28), stolen bases (15) and walk rate (11.2%), all while playing excellent defense in right field.

Which is why it was so bizarre when, on Sept. 23, Puig made the final out of a loss to the San Francisco Giants on an inexplicable stolen base attempt. He was not only thrown out easily at second base, but he also didn’t slide. Puig said after the game he twisted his ankle as he was about to slide, but then never got treatment from the training staff after the game.

Puig was out of the starting lineup the next day, after Roberts said, “Plays like that, when you’re trying to win a championship, can’t happen.”

One day later, Puig exacerbated the problem by showing up late to a scheduled early batting practice session, and was benched one more day. In previous years, this might have mushroomed into a bigger issue, and the timing couldn’t have been much worse with just a week to go in the regular season for a playoff-bound team.

But Puig, now 26, has matured. At least relative to his younger days.

He finished the season 5-for-12 with a pair of home runs in the final week, along with a double and three walks. Counting the Division Series, he’s 10 for his last 21 (.476).

“This season I played the best I can with my teammates,” Puig said. “They helped me a lot, and my manager. That's the reason why I played better this year, and was given one more chance and opportunity to play in the playoffs.”

“He’s called the wild horse for a reason,” Roberts said. “Sometimes you shake your head, and sometimes you smile. But he’s a heck of a talent.”