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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Guarding against even small mistakes

By Mark Saxon

PHOENIX -- Whether it's because everyone's paying closer attention, because the games often are well-pitched and close or because of the pressure everyone is under, postseason games often boil down to one moment so memorable it freezes in time.

It's often a mistake.

Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig hit a majestic home run Wednesday but also had two mental errors early in the Dodgers' loss to the Diamondbacks.
There is Jeremy Giambi electing not to slide. There is Nelson Cruz misplaying a David Freese line drive. If you want to go all ESPN Classic, there's always Bill Buckner, of course. Pick your favorite or least-favorite team. You can probably rattle off a list.

Wednesday's 9-4 Los Angeles Dodgers loss at Chase Field -- keeping them frustratingly stuck on the brink of clinching the NL West -- didn't feel much like a playoff game. For one thing, the stadium was about two-thirds full and one of the teams had virtually nothing at stake.

But it illustrated the peril of the ill-timed mistake twice, in fact -- once by a player, the other by an umpire.

A year from now, the Dodgers wouldn't have had to worry about Jim Joyce blowing a call when he called out Michael Young after he slid into home in the sixth inning. Don Mattingly could have challenged it, the umpires would have reviewed it and -- if they trusted the replay everyone else saw -- they would have reversed it.

Instead, Young was called out, the Diamondbacks retained a 4-3 lead and the game went downhill from there.

At the time, it felt pivotal, which is why one of the most laid-back Dodgers players got mad enough to be ejected. Adrian Gonzalez, who had hit the double that sent Young home, got the heave-ho for only the third time in his career.

Gonzalez said he was upset that Joyce didn't get close enough to the plate to have a good angle on the play. The umpires were rotating in case a call needed to be made in the outfield.

"I said, 'If you guys are going to switch, hustle so you can be in position to make the call,' and that's when he threw me out," Gonzalez said. "I was yelling it, but at the same time I only said, 'Do your job,' and he tossed me out for that."

When Yasiel Puig lollygagged and allowed Adam Eaton to hustle out a double on a routine ground-ball hit to right field in the first inning, the repercussions were even less damaging to the Dodgers. Eaton scored, but he would have scored from first just as easily because Paul Goldschmidt launched a home run.

Still, it's one of the Dodgers' worries going into October.

Many of the negative public perceptions of Puig are all wrong. He supports his teammates. He is a good technical hitter who has been far more patient than anyone would have guessed. His on-base percentage is .404.

But he is still prone to lapses in judgment or effort, often driven by emotion. He had been picked off second base a half-inning earlier, misreading the catcher after Carl Crawford missed while trying to bunt for a hit. It was a forgivable mistake -- a hard read -- but compounding it by taking it to the field is another matter.

As usual, Puig mixed the spectacular with the bad. He hit a majestic, soaring 442-foot home run and stopped the running game, again, with the threat of his strong throwing arm. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly continues to work with Puig in a patient, paternal manner.

"[Eaton] just took advantage of him," Mattingly said. "He came easy after that ball and he took advantage of him."

In the playoffs, you have to guard against giving away advantages. You might not get them back. Ever.