LOS ANGELES — Yasiel Puig came barreling, headlong and tongue-first, into third base late Friday night, and it was there, in a cloud of dust maybe 40 feet from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dugout, that a normal human — which is to say, one who did not wish for the fleshy, muscular organ in his mouth to become its own story on the night the Dodgers won their first game of the 2017 postseason — would have put the tongue back from whence it came.
But this being Puig, and these being the Dodgers, and the moment being what it was, Puig plunged his tongue deeper into the collective consciousness of his 24 teammates and a Dodger Stadium crowd of 54,707. The Dodgers’ right fielder looked into his own dugout with wild eyes and began wagging the tongue in his teammates’ direction.
And they, in turn, appeared amused in a way that suggested Puig’s tongue was something they have come to expect to make an appearance at any moment, even that one — in the seventh inning of the Dodgers’ 9-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
“I was thinking, ‘That’s about right,’ ” Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said of his reaction to Puig’s GIF-worthy tongue-wag.
Puig went 2 for 5 in the Dodgers’ win, with a double, a triple and two RBI. But in terms of national exposure and postgame interest from the assembled media, he didn’t have half the night his tongue did.
“I hit an easy groundball,” Puig said, “and that was normally, for everybody, a double.” But as he rounded second, he realized he could make it to third, so he motored on, tongue-first. When he made it, safe, and for reasons he still doesn’t completely understand, his tongue was not ready to go back to its dark home.
“When I slide, that’s my reaction. I go like that,” he said, giving another display of the tongue-wagging, just in case anybody missed it the first time. “Because my teammates — I see my teammates so excited on the bench and, I don’t know why. Maybe [there was] ice cream in front of me or something like that.”
The tongue-wag at third base was not the only curious appearance of Puig’s tongue on this night. In the first inning, just before hitting his double, he stuck it out to lick his bat, only to recoil when he realized the taste of a bat slathered with pine tar is actually quite disgusting.
Luckily, he recovered in time to make a great swing on the double. As the ball left his bat, Puig posed at home plate for a moment and flipped his bat away, even though the low line drive had no chance of leaving the yard.
Such escapades are part of the life the Dodgers have chosen to make with Puig, the talented but mercurial Cuban outfielder whom the team has sent to the minors and benched in the past out of frustration with his lapses in judgment and focus — but who can also have nights like Friday when, batting in the fifth spot of the Dodgers’ loaded lineup, he slashed the ball all over Dodger Stadium and at times looked like the best athlete on the field.
“He’s called ‘the Wild Horse’ for a reason,” said Manager Dave Roberts, who benched Puig twice in September, but now was smiling at his antics. “He’s just — he’s a wild horse. So sometimes you shake your head. Sometimes you smile. But he’s a heck of a talent, and he helped us win a baseball game tonight.”
When Puig emerged from the Dodgers’ clubhouse for a postgame news conference, he was alongside teammate Justin Turner, who homered and drove in five runs in the win. There were three seats at the table, and Puig took the one on his right. Turner considered the one in the center, closest to Puig, then opted for the one on the left.
When Puig looked offended, Turner looked at him and said: “You might lick me.”