By Bill Shaikin
11:24 PM EDT, June 30, 2013
It was the kind of hot summer day when you could close your eyes and let your mind drift onto a sea of pleasant thoughts. The Dodgers could be in first place at the All-Star break. Yasiel Puig could be the most valuable player of the National League. The Dodgers could tap a kid with a 101-mph fastball for the eighth inning.
Yet this was not a hallucinogenic heat wave. This was reality at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, a day anything could happen.
Anything, apparently, except Puig hitting for the cycle. He didn't miss by much, though. He needed a home run in his last at-bat, swung from the heels three times, and struck out. Then he received a standing ovation and "M-V-Puig" chants, despite the fact that the ball stayed in the park.
"It wouldn't leave," Puig said on television. "I tried to hit it. It just didn't happen."
The Dodgers, all but left for dead a week ago, are four games out of first place in the National League West after Sunday's 6-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Dodgers have won eight of their last nine games, and they have gained 51/2 games in eight days. Their lineup is healthy, and so is their offense.
This is why Dodgers management paid no heed to cries to fire Don Mattingly, according to co-owner Todd Boehly, who disdained an air-conditioned luxury suite to sit outside and sweat through the whole game.
"This is what we were supposed to be, on paper," Boehly said. "That's why all the chitchat that was going on was so off base. We never had the team that we were supposed to be on the field."
The Dodgers trail the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks by four games, the second-place Colorado Rockies by two, with 10 of the final 13 games before the All-Star break against those two clubs.
"We were just trying to get within striking distance at the break," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "Things went a little quicker than we had planned. Now it's up to us to maintain this level."
The Dodgers got seven scoreless innings Sunday from rookie Stephen Fife, who wrapped June with a 2.21 earned-run average, the lowest of any Dodgers starter in the month — lower than Clayton Kershaw (2.65), than Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.70), than Chris Capuano (3.07), than Zack Greinke (3.66).
If the Dodgers trade for a veteran starter, Fife could lose his spot in the rotation.
"If I can prove I deserve to stay, maybe I will," Fife said.
Puig will stay, after 44 hits during his first calendar month in the big leagues. The only player with more: Joe DiMaggio, with 48, in May 1936.
Puig had four hits Sunday, his first four-hit game in the majors. He has been so extraordinary that Mattingly did not automatically laugh when a reporter goofily asked whether Puig could maintain his .436 batting average all season.
"Honestly, I shouldn't doubt him at all," Mattingly said. "But .440 is a pretty tough clip. You kind of expect him to do something every day."
On Sunday, Puig singled twice, scored twice, stole two bases, doubled and hit his first major league triple — a pop fly over the head of Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.
"You know things are going good when you get a bloop triple like that," Matt Kemp said jokingly.
Seriously, Kemp said, how could you keep Puig out of the All-Star game?
"I think he would bring a lot of excitement to the All-Star game," Kemp said. "Everybody needs to see what this kid is doing. It's pretty amazing."
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