The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of a 43-7 stretch, the first such mark over 50 games that baseball has seen since the 1912 New York Giants, and they have the best record in the Majors by a comfortable margin.
A fifth consecutive National League West title is all but a formality with two and a half months remaining in the regular season. While the Dodgers are playing with a focus that’s led to several comeback wins, the team is also playing with a certain looseness and enjoying the daily aspects of a long season.
Among the more light-hearted moments that has become a regular occurrence is Yasiel Puig giving Dodgers hitting coach Turner Ward a bear hug and kiss on the cheek after hitting a home run.
Puig did so again after slugging a go-ahead homer in Saturday’s win against the New York Mets, and explained in a postgame interview with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports how the tradition came to be:
“He likes it sometimes. He said his family and people in Alabama were calling him and saying, ‘What’s wrong with Puig? Why does he hit you so much?’ I work with him every day, early. He throws me balls inside and outside. When I hit a home run or do something good in the game I know it’s because of good preparation, so I go and kiss him.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recently highlighted what he called a trusting relationship between Puig and Ward as one key to Puig’s success. The second-year manager believes his dynamic outfielder is undeniably having the best season of his young career.
Teammates Kenley Jansen and Chase Utley praised Puig for a change in his demeanor and maturation. Puig is batting .258/.332/.479 with 13 doubles, 21 home runs and 54 RBI. Puig’s previous career high in home runs was 19, set during his 2013 rookie season.
All the while adjusting to life as a bottom-of-the-order hitter, Puig has continued to play Gold-Glove caliber defense in right field. His 6.5 UZR ranks third among qualified right fielders.