SAN FRANCISCO -- Yasiel Puig made history again Friday night, when his three triples in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 8-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants tied a single-game franchise record more than a century old.
But in the future, this night could be viewed as historic for another reason. This could be the night Puig became the Dodgers' center fielder.
Puig started there for the first time this season in the opening game of the Dodgers' most important series to date, which in itself would have made Manager Don Mattingly's move a gamble.
Only there was more. The Dodgers were facing the first-place Giants at AT&T Park, which has one of the most expansive outfields in baseball.
The thought made Puig roar with laughter.
"I'm not worried about that," Puig said in Spanish. "The larger the field, the better for me. I can run more."
Around the bases, it turned out.
Puig nearly hit a home run in the first inning, when he drove the ball to the top of the wall in left-center field. Puig slid into third base for a triple, after which Mattingly asked the umpires to review the play since a fan in the left-field stands appeared to have touched the ball. The original call stood and Puig remained on third base, but only until Adrian Gonzalez drove him in with a single to right field to move the Dodgers in front, 1-0.
Puig doubled to center field in the third inning. He tripled to right-center in the fifth inning and again in the sixth.
The only other player in Dodgers history to triple three times in a game was Jimmy Sheckard, who did it on opening day in 1901.
Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp also tripled for the Dodgers, whose five triples also tied a franchise single-game record, set in 1902 and 1921.
As for Puig's move to center field, he made the most of his few chances. He caught a harmless fly ball by Hunter Pence in the eighth inning and ran down a line drive by Buster Posey in left-center.
Kemp started the season as the team's primary center fielder, but his diminished range prompted Mattingly to replace him with Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke. With Puig out of the lineup in recent days, Kemp played right field in his place. Kemp played well in right, inspiring the latest change.
Puig was excited about the opportunity. He played 10 games in center last season. His time there this season had been limited to an inning on Wednesday as a defensive substitute in Pittsburgh.
"It's one of the positions I like because I played it as kid," he said.
Puig said he was initially a catcher when he started playing baseball in his native Cuba. He soon moved to center field, which he played for the rest of his childhood.
"There's more space on the sides and in the back," Puig said. "I can run more in center field. In right field, I have to take smaller steps when I'm moving back toward the wall or into the corner."
However, Puig was also mindful of potential risks.
"In right field, if you dive and the ball gets behind you, you have the wall," Puig said. "In center field, it's another matter. If you dive and miss, it could turn into an inside-the-park home run."
In recent days, Mattingly said he was reluctant to move the hard-charging Puig to center because he might crash into teammates. Puig conceded he had to be careful.
"In center field, I could kill two or three people," he joked.
As a right fielder, he primarily had to be aware of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez or second baseman Dee Gordon backtracking.
"In center, it's right, left, short or second base," he said.
Puig didn't think switching positions at this point in the season would be an issue.
"If they changed your job and made you a television broadcaster, would it be difficult?" he asked.
Yes, he was told.
"Why?" he asked. "You can't look into a camera and put on makeup?"
The game marked the first time Puig started in six days. The last time he was in the lineup, he was hit by a pitch on the left hand by Joe Kelly of the St. Louis Cardinals. Kemp pinch-hit for Puig in the eighth inning of that game, leading to a heated argument between Puig and Mattingly.
"That's life," Puig said. "That happened. That was his decision. I didn't want to be taken out, but he said he was doing it for the team."
Asked if that's why he was out of the lineup in recent days, Puig replied, "I can't say that. You'll have to ask him."
Mattingly said he was waiting for Puig's hand to heal.
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