LOS ANGELES -- For hours, the cheers and boos and attention were fixated on Yasiel Puig at Dodger Stadium on Monday night. He commanded the spotlight in his first game in Los Angeles as a foe. He savored it and performed in it.
But the loudest roars were unleashed at the end of the night -- for Joc Pederson's towering walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Raisel Iglesias in a 4-3 Los Angeles Dodgers victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The blast came moments after Matt Kemp, one of the three other Dodgers traded to Cincinnati in December, poked a 94-mph cutter off Kenley Jansen the other way to give the Reds the lead in the top of the ninth. Thanks to Pederson's home run, the Dodgers avoided wasting Clayton Kershaw's impressive season debut.
In his first start for the Dodgers since Game 5 of the World Series last fall, Kershaw limited the Reds to two runs on five hits over seven innings. He struck out six and didn't issue a walk. His only costly mistake came against a familiar face.
On a day when the baseball world celebrated Jackie Robinson and the outsized impact he left on the sport still resonating decades later, Puig returned to Dodger Stadium with a complex legacy etched in franchise history. To the fan base, he was a beloved figure for his theatrics and eccentricities who starred on six playoff teams in six years. To the organization, he was a frustrating, underachieving talent whose headache-to-production ratio rendered him a trade piece as his salary grew in his final years in L.A.
On Monday, he was the opponent and a problem for the Dodgers. Puig walked to the plate in the first inning for his first plate appearance to cheers. They crested when he recognized them by tipping his batting helmet.
"Puig!" the masses boomed in unison for their former right fielder.
Four pitches later, Puig smashed an 88-mph slider and admired his work as the ball landed over the center-field wall for a two-run home run. It was Puig's second home run for the Reds. Chances are he will never hit one more gratifying.
The clash with Kershaw began when Puig ripped the first pitch, an 88-mph slider, down the left-field line just foul. He waved at the second pitch, a looping curveball, to fall behind 0-2. He then took a ball high before Kershaw went back to his slider. The pitch lacked depth -- a problem that hampered Kershaw last season -- and didn't fool Puig. He swatted at it with authority and held an arm up as he approached first base. He looked back at the Reds' dugout when he rounded the bag. The crowd was left stunned, and the Reds had a 2-0 lead.
The Dodgers responded rapidly to Puig's spectacle in the bottom of the inning. Pederson led off with a walk against right-hander Luis Castillo. Two batters later, Justin Turner singled before Cody Bellinger smacked a line drive to right field. The ball bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double, limiting the Dodgers to one run on the drive. It was a break for the Reds, and Castillo capitalized, striking out the next two hitters to strand two runners on base.
Inconsistent command troubled Castillo and hurt the Dodgers in the third. After issuing a one-out walk to Turner, Castillo hit Bellinger on the right knee with a 96-mph fastball. Bellinger collapsed. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a trainer raced to the slugger's side.
After a limping down to first base, Bellinger jogged to test out the knee. He stayed in the game but remained in clear pain. He limped for his leads off first base and grimaced. He never appeared comfortable as he watched A.J. Pollock and Max Muncy strike out to terminate the threat. He walked gingerly back to the Dodgers' dugout and didn't reemerge for the top of the fourth. Alex Verdugo took his place in right field.
Castillo gifted the Dodgers another scoring chance in the fifth. With runners on first and second, he walked Verdugo to load the bases and walked Pollock to allow a run to score. That brought up Muncy with the bases still full. He struck out a third time. Enrique Hernandez then flied out to center field to end the inning and Castillo's night.
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