Yasiel Puig: “This is a game of entertainment. I don’t play it to offend people.”

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Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has been a lightning rod for criticism since making his major league debut on June 3 last season. He has upset several pitchers — along with plenty of writers, commentators, and fans — for flipping a bat. Sometimes on home runs, sometimes not. Puig has also made some fundamental errors defensively and on the bases.

Puig has also been, without question, one of the best players in baseball over the last two seasons. He’s tied with Mike Trout and Chris Davis for the third-best weighted on-base average (wOBA) since the start of 2013 at .412. The league average is .314. His 6.6 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs, is tied for 17th-best with David Wright despite having the lowest amount of playing time among those in the top-20.

Puig doesn’t seem bristled by people who ignore his talents to focus on other details. Via MLB.com’s Paul Hagen:

“It’s my style. It’s the way I’ve played baseball for a long time. I don’t really worry about the other team or what other players think about me, other than our team,” he said. “As far as what other people think, I try to play the game hard and I try to play the game happy. I want to have a good time when I’m playing. This is a game of entertainment. I don’t play it to offend people. But I do have a good time playing the game of baseball.”

Puig made a ridiculous circus catch on Thursday night against the Mets. It’s a catch few outfielders past or present make. He’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to watch him having fun. Many hate the athletes who are clearly in it for the money, but then they turn around and try to ostracize one of the few players who is demonstrably having a good time out there. It’s tough to understand.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.