Puig tapped his cleats with his bat. He licked the bat — one of his trademark moves. He tapped the bat on his thighs. Eventually, the Cincinnati Reds right fielder stepped into the batter’s box to face Chicago Cubs reliever Brad Brach.
Puig saw one pitch. That was all he needed. He launched it deep to center field. Long before it hit the base of the wall, Puig had flipped his bat in the air and started running to first. His teammates jumped over the dugout wall and raced to Puig as Michael Lorenzen ran home with the winning run in a 6-5 victory.
“You can just pick up on his energy,” Reds manager David Bell said of Puig. “You could tell he absolutely wanted to be in that spot right there. That’s the mindset you need in a situation like that: aggressive, ready to hit. It’s like he saw it as an opportunity. … The pitcher’s on the ropes there. He has to throw a strike. That aggressive approach at the plate served him well there.”
The last-place Reds (19-24) need any type of victory. They hope this type of victory against the first-place Cubs (25-15) provides the spark they need to escape the basement in the National League Central and start closing the gap between them and the Cubs.
“We just have to come out and win every single day,” said Reds first baseman Joey Votto, whose one-out walk in the 10th started the winning rally. “For a bit, the Cardinals were the best team. For a bit, the Brewers were the No. 1 team. Hopefully, by the every end of the season, the Reds are the No. 1 team in the division. That’s all we’re focused on.”
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Puig’s mannerisms at the plate and his reaction to the winning hit demonstrated how much he relished the moment. It was the first walk-off victory of the season.
“He looks good in those situations,” Votto said. “We’re happy to have him up to bat and to play the hero. He got a single, though. It’s kind of a big gap between a grand slam and a single, but I think we’ll take it.”
The Reds acquired Puig from the Dodgers in December for just these type of moments. For the most, though, that deal has not translated to victories. Alex Wood, the pitcher involved in the deal, remains on the injured list and hasn't pitched this season. The Reds released Matt Kemp, the other high-profile name in the transaction. The fourth player in the deal, Kyle Farmer, is hitting .231 in a utility role.
Puig was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts when he hit in the 10th. His single raised his average to .212. The Cubs walked Jesse Winker to load the bases to pitch to Puig.
“I wanted Jesse Winker in that moment, but he walked Jesse,” Puig said, “and I tried to do my best and make contact, and I make contact and win the game.”
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Earlier in the game, Eugenio Suarez hit a two-run home run in the eighth to tie the game at 5-5. Relievers Raisel Iglesias and Amir Garrett combined to keep the Cubs off the scoreboard in the ninth and the 10th.
“There’s so many good things that happened in that game,” Bell said. “We get down, and guys just continue to compete when it’s not easy. You have a tough game leading up and it gets later in the game, and you keep going and keep finding ways to compete. Guys come up with big at-bats that lead to runs, and the next thing you know, you have a chance to win the game.”