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Dodgers' Yasiel Puig goes out on strikes against Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — Yasiel Puig had nothing to show for the day. Neither did the Dodgers.

That could have changed, for Puig and for the Dodgers, with one swing in the ninth inning. The count was full.

Puig did not swing. He moved tentatively toward first base, but the umpire called strike three rather than ball four. Puig looked back at the umpire, shuffled back toward the visiting dugout and took a little swing with his bat, almost as if he were on deck and getting ready to hit.

The frustration was there, for all the world to see. Puig could swing at the air, or he could swing at a pitch, and the results were the same.

Puig struck out in all four at-bats of the Dodgers' 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. With Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier injured and out of the lineup, the Cardinals were happy to pitch around Adrian Gonzalez and let Puig try to beat them.

He could not. The Cardinals lead the National League Championship Series, two games to none, and they can eliminate the Dodgers without returning here.

In 10 at-bats in this series, Puig has no hits, and six strikeouts. He is as supremely confident in his ability as any player in any sport, and so the adjective chosen to describe him by Dodgers batting coach Mark McGwire was particularly telling.

"Indecisive," McGwire said.

The Cardinals are backing him off the plate, forcing him to reach outside, mixing pitches in no discernible pattern, all under the supervision of baseball's best catcher, Yadier Molina.

"Yadier is doing a nice job as far as yo-yoing him back and forth and keeping him in the rocking chair," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said.

The Cardinals put Puig in the hot seat in the sixth inning, the only inning in which the Dodgers put more than one man on base. The Cardinals walked Gonzalez intentionally, bringing up Puig with the bases loaded and one out.

Fly ball? Tie game. Hit? Dodgers lead.

The first pitch came in at 95 mph, and Puig swung so hard he fell to one knee. The second pitch also came in at 95 mph. Puig took it for strike two, then glared at the umpire.

Three balls followed, then a 94-mph fastball. Puig swung, indecisively and almost clumsily. Strike three.

This is understandable. Ramirez is out. Ethier is out. The Cardinals are treading lightly around Gonzalez. They have put the pressure on Puig, and players on both sides can see the results.

"You have to stay within yourself to get a hit," St. Louis outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "You don't have to hit a homer. Just get a hit."

Said Ramirez: "He's young. You have to get a plan before you go to the plate. That's the difference between veteran guys and young guys. But he's going to learn."

Ramirez said he has counseled Puig about not trying to compensate for all the injuries single-handedly. McGwire said he has done the same, and both plan to throw an arm around Puig's shoulder and remind him again.

Whatever frustration and indecision Puig had displayed on the field had vanished by the time he showered, dressed and spoke with reporters. He got eight hits in four games in the division series, and he said the Atlanta Braves pitched him no differently than the Cardinals.

"They have really good pitchers making their pitches, and a catcher who really knows what he is doing," Puig said through a translator. "They're the ones that are executing."

He had a one-word answer to the question of whether he was frustrated — "No" — and shrugged off his four strikeouts.

"It happens in a game," he said. "It's happened before."

He laughed out loud at the question of whether he was swinging more aggressively, trying harder to hit the home run.

"It's the same swing I've always had," he said, "the same swing I had against Atlanta."

At that point, he had heard enough questions. He shared a hearty laugh with reliever Ronald Belisario about something, then headed to the team bus, and to what might be the last flight of the Dodgers' season.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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