ATLANTA -- Yasiel Puig and the Atlanta Braves, coming into Game 1 of their NLDS Thursday night, have never been in a fight with one another. But give them time.
As you can learn from the reader comments under any story involving the Dodgers after June 3, there are two sorts of baseball fans. One is the sort that looks at Yasiel Puig and sees a man with talent coming out of his ears, busting out of his jersey. A man who is aware that he is one of the most skilled baseball players on the planet -- who knows he has been struck by lightning -- and takes joy in this fact, publicly, without reservation or restraint. A man who doesn't understand why anyone would be any other way, because why would anyone be? A man who is just barely a man, a young kid having fun, because nothing is more fun than baseball when you are young and skilled and immortal and have been struck by lightning.
The other kind of fan is the sort that hates Puig for being all of those things.
I am in the former camp; the Atlanta Braves are in the latter. The Atlanta Braves are the party police; Yasiel Puig is the party. The two sides are inextricably linked. I almost wish the Braves would try to trade for him.
Tonight, the Dodgers coasted by the Braves 6-1 to take a 1-0 lead in their series, and it was one of those dreary evenings in which 43,000 or so people show up ready to scream, and are given almost nothing to scream about. This is a particularly cruel byproduct of October baseball. Sometimes you fire yourself up for a rock show, and the band shows up playing out-of-tune Theremins. Clayton Kershaw struck out 12 batters and was never challenged. Kris Medlen gave up five runs in four innings. B.J. Upton came in, swung three times and sat down. It wasn't a fun night in Turner Field, though the fans did their best.
The night left fans little to do, other than take the lead from their team and boo the living bejeezus out of Puig. Now, Puig is surely used to this by now; it happens in just about every stadium he visits at this point, though he still must be bewildered as to why this is happening. But the Turner Field crowd gets a bad rap sometimes. This place can get legitimately loud when it wants to, and it wanted to every time Yasiel Puig did anything. His name was basically a call-and-response.
Here's the thing, though. If this were the first time you had watched Puig play all season -- and with the Dodgers on the West Coast, that's possible for a lot of people -- you would be baffled as to who the real culprits in this Disrespecting The Game business really were.
It wasn't the Braves who, in the second inning, sprinted to third base after a Juan Uribe single (and a lollygagging Jason Heyward approach on the ball), allowing the first run of the game to score on a sacrifice fly. That was Puig. It wasn't Puig who, in the bottom half of that inning, stopped paying attention at first base on a looping fly ball to right field, getting picked off first base needlessly. That was Evan Gattis of the Braves. And it wasn't Yasiel Puig who nailed Yasiel Puig in the back with a pitch in the fifth inning. (That would be impossible. Though if anyone could pull it off, it might be Puig.) That was a frustrated Medlen of the Braves. The Braves were the ones who looked like the jerks who didn't play the game the right way; Puig just went about his business.
That'll surely change at some point, quite possibly Friday. The Braves are usually smarter about baseball than they were tonight, and Puig is usually a lot showier. But the fact that the roles could be so easily reversed, for one high-profile night, speaks to the ridiculousness of the Braves' strange crusade to Play The Right Way in the first place. One could argue that stopping someone from touching home plate after a homer is the very definition of Playing The Wrong Way. Or starting a brawl because a 20-year-old got excited about his first ever home run.
The reason unwritten rules are not written down is because they are not real. They can be fudged and twisted and contorted into whatever shape you want them to be. They are, by definition, absolutes only to the person who cites them. The Braves are a good team who will likely give their fans more to cheer about than they did tonight, at some point (though the 1-0 Dodgers series lead puts a bit of a deadline on that). But if you're going to be scolds about The Baseball Way, you'd best make sure your own house is in order.
Besides, the Braves were responsible for playing this right before first pitch:
I'd probably pitch up and in for that.