A heated rivalry gains a bit more steam

May, 9, 2014
May 9
11:37
PM PT
Yasiel Puig and Madison BumgarnerAP Photo/Danny MoloshokYasiel Puig fired back at Madison Bumgarner after the slugger's sixth-inning home run.

LOS ANGELES -- Things could get a little raw this weekend.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were a bit edgy after their 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night, particularly after ace Madison Bumgarner started yelling at Yasiel Puig as he crossed the plate after hitting a home run. The Giants probably aren’t too delighted that one of their best players, Brandon Belt, suffered a broken left thumb after being hit by a pitch.

Put it all in the emotional mixer, add the early start times and there’s no telling what could happen over the next two days. Of course, what the Dodgers could really use is some runs and a win. They’re 2-6 against the Giants so far this season and in the midst of a fairly painful scoring slump: two runs in their past 27 innings.

Even Puig, who professed to being baffled at what Bumgarner was upset about, admitted the primary frustration is not being able to beat the Giants.

“We’ve played a lot of games with them and we haven’t won a lot of games, so you can imagine,” he said.

Bumgarner apparently didn’t like the fact that Puig flipped his bat and took his time starting his home-run trot after his sixth-inning blast, though Bumgarner claimed after the game he was “congratulating” Puig on a “good swing,” saying, “I don’t know why everybody got mad. That was impressive.”

Bumgarner’s manager, Bruce Bochy, seemed a bit more earnest in discussing the matter of showboating and the perception of showboating in the modern game.

“I think we all know what caused it,” Bochy said. “Like any competitors, these guys just, you know, get a little upset at times when they think they’re getting shown up. It’s just part of our game. The bat flips and that stuff, a lot of pitchers are getting upset.”

To the Dodgers, it was standard stuff. They’ve been down this road before, having had to brawl with the Arizona Diamondbacks after pitcher Ian Kennedy grazed Puig’s nose with a 92-mph fastball last season. Puig has flipped his bat on a walk before, so why wouldn’t he celebrate a majestic home run to center field?

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Dodgers
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokDon Mattingly stalks off the field after his sixth-inning ejection against the Giants.
“I don’t know if he took exception to the bat flip or what, but I think most of us have come to accept it. He bat-flips when he gets outs,” Dodgers pitcher Paul Maholm said. “I don’t think he was technically pimping it. He just put his head down and started jogging.”

Maholm, for his part, said he felt remorse at missing his spot by “about two feet,” and fracturing Belt’s thumb in the second inning. Belt led the Giants in OPS last season and was off to a powerful start, with nine home runs.

As usual, Puig was the lightning rod. He said he couldn’t understand what Bumgarner was yelling at him and that he was surprised to see the pitcher approaching the third-base line as he was nearing home plate. Puig took a step toward Bumgarner, but plate umpire Will Little intervened and Puig took catcher Buster Posey’s advice to drop it and head back to the dugout.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, however, wasn’t as easily appeased. He had been riding Little all night for what he viewed as an overly generous strike zone, particularly above the belt, and when Bumgarner stalked his hottest hitter, it set Mattingly off. He continued yelling at Little, eventually getting tossed for the first time this season.

“At that point, I’m not going to have anybody yelling at Yasiel,” Mattingly said. “The umpire’s got to get out there and do something. He can’t just let him keep chirping.”

Mattingly, at times, has admitted to being a bit bemused at hitters’ antics following home runs nowadays, but he said he viewed Bumgarner’s reaction as a “double standard,” because, he said, some Giants players also showboat following big hits.

“I’m not quite sure, because I watched it. He hit it, he flipped and he ran,” Mattingly said. “I’m not quite sure what he’s upset about. You see guys do stuff every day.”

The teams could go back and forth all night debating the game’s manners, but the Dodgers would probably be better served figuring out what Giants pitchers are doing to them -- not to mention, Giants scouting reports. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez have been kept under wraps in the first two games of this series in part because of the positioning of Giants infielders. Gonzalez hit into a shift three times Thursday night and second baseman Brandon Hicks was standing on the shortstop side of the bag when Ramirez grounded sharply to him in Friday's ninth inning.

The Dodgers just can’t seem to dig out a clutch hit against the team they so badly want to beat.

“I have a lot of confidence in what we’re going to be able to do," Mattingly said. "We haven’t been able to do it yet, but I know these guys are going to hit."

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.296 16 69 92
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239