Thanks to the free live-stream on Dodgers.com, I was able to watch every pitch of Friday night’s 8-1 spring training win over the Kansas City Royals on my computer. With both teams playing spit squad games on Friday, and with most of the Dodgers starting nine playing against the Padres earlier in the day in Peoria, the nightcap at Camelback Ranch featured a Dodger team that was comprised of mostly second stringers and a whole bunch of minor leaguers - with a couple of very noteworthy exceptions.
Without question the night belonged to Yasiel Puig (go figure) who went 3 for 3 with another monster Cuban Missile home run to deep right center field. In addition to his two run shot, Puig added two singles and ended his night with 3 RBIs, 3 runs scored, a stolen base, and a heads up running play on a lackadaisical throw back into the infield on which he scored from third base.
I’ll say it again: after yet another incredible display of pure talent (as opposed to raw talent), how can Don Mattingly, in good conscience, keep this kid off of the opening day roster until Carl Crawford is healthy if he truly wants to win ball games? Here’s a clue Donny B – If you play him, they will come… to Dodger Stadium – and that is bound to put a smile on Stan Kasten’s, Magic Johnson’s and Mark Walter’s faces.
Lost in all of the Puig hype and hoopla and (as much as I hate to say it) Juan Uribe’s incredible 4 for 4 night, was an absolutely stellar pitching performance by 26-year-old right-hander Stephen Fife, who allowed only one run on 3 hits with 2 walks and 2 strikeouts in his 4.2 innings of work. Unfortunately, and in spite of the fact that his spring training numbers absolutely blow the doors off of Chris Capuano’s and Aaron Harang’s, Fife will probably be sent down to minor league camp, perhaps even this weekend.
Saving the best for last and although it will not appear in any headlines (well, except for the one above), the unsung hero of Friday night’s game was veteran second baseman Mark Ellis.
Playing with kids nearly half his age, Ellis had an okay night at the plate going 1 for 3 with a HBP, a run scored (on Puig’s home run) and an RBI; but what Ellis did on the other side of the ball was nothing short of incredible.
In what would have undoubtedly been one of ESPN’s nightly web gems had it occurred during the regular season, Ellis made a play on a line drive off the bat of Royals second baseman Chris Getz that had base hit and RBI written over it. But instead, Ellis made a perfectly timed leap to turn a sure run-scoring base hit into the final out of the 5th inning. And in true Mark Ellis non-assuming style, while most were in absolute awe of his great defensive play (including yours truly), Mark simply jogged off the field as if it were no big deal.
Ellis, who will celebrate his 36th birthday in June, has made plays like this throughout his entire 10-year MLB career; but like many Dodgers fans, I was completely unaware of just how good he really was until he arrived at Dodger Stadium last season after signing a two-year/$8.75 million contract (with an option for 2014). Ellis quickly showed why he has been among the leaders in fielding percentage throughout his career, and he showed it again on Friday night with his outstanding catch.
Ellis’ 5th inning web gem overshadowed another great play that he made earlier in the evening on a pop foul ball behind first base that Uribe had absolutely no chance of catching, yet Ellis once again made it look easy.
So while Yasiel Puig may be getting all of the “oohs and aahs” this spring (and with good cause), it will be the unsung heroes like Mark Ellis that will ultimately lead the Dodgers into the promise land of the post-season.