Of all the players and prospects talked about in the transaction, Punto’s name was perhaps the least mentioned. If you look at the contracts, it’s probably for good reason.
His value to a team searching for chemistry, however, cannot be understated, especially during walk-off wins.
When Punto’s team wins in walk-off fashion, he reverts into his “Shredder” alter ego. He runs from the dugout like a sprinter out of the starter blocks, makes a beeline to whoever had the winning hit and proceeds to tear the player’s jersey off while the rest of his teammates jump into the fray.
“That’s ‘Shredder Punto,’” said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, who was the recipient Monday after nailing a walk-off single to score Andre Ethier in the Dodgers’ 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres. “You win and the jersey comes off.”
Punto isn’t quite sure when he became known as Shredder Punto, which he also adopted as his Twitter handle (@ShredderPunto). If he had to guess, he got the nickname from David Freese when they were on the St. Louis Cardinals last season.
“Last year, David Freese’s Game 6 jersey is in the Hall of Fame,” Punto said. “But it’s torn up in pieces.”
The genesis of Punto’s postgame move, however, came earlier than last season and didn’t always include the player with the game-winning, walk-off hit.
“It started back in 2008 with the Minnesota Twins when we went on this nice run and Bobby Korecky was the game-winning pitcher and also got a hit,” Punto said. “He was using my bat, so I got a little too excited and grabbed him and ripped his jersey off.”
As Punto stood in front of his locker Monday night after a game in which he went 0-for-1, Gonzalez -- who now has now experienced Punto rip jerseys off firsthand in Boston and Los Angeles -- laughed as Punto explained the art of “shredding” a jersey.
“Ellis was easy because his jersey isn’t sewn,” Punto said as he pointed to the lining of the buttons on the jersey. “Adrian’s is sewn all the way up, so it’s a tough shred.”
When Ellis hit his walk-off single to right to score Ethier, he knew what was coming as he was being mobbed by his teammates.
“They call him the Shredder for a reason, and I was warned about him,” Ellis said with smile. “Matt Guerrier played with him in Minnesota and he warned us all that the Shredder is coming, so when you get the walk-off win, tell Mitch Poole, our clubhouse guy, to order more jerseys.”
“He did in Boston and he did last year,” Gonzalez said. “Everybody knows that about him now. My jersey is stitched up, but he ripped it. I let him get in there.”
Watching replays of Punto at work on the TVs in the clubhouse after the game apparently causes players to stick around a little longer than usual to relive the moment.
“I guess fans sometimes want to see what’s under the jersey,” Ethier said. “It’s just a sweaty, dirty, probably 160-game worn undershirt. ([Clayton] Kershaw usually pitches without a shirt, so we’ll see if he gets a walk-off hit.”
Punto admits that being the Shredder comes at a cost to his pocketbook, but he doesn’t mind given the circumstances.
“It costs me $150 each time I do it,” said Punto, who estimates he’s shredded about 30 jerseys after walk-off wins in his career. “But I’ll gladly pay that for the jersey and the win.”
When Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was asked about the newest tradition on the team, he simply smiled.
“We can get jerseys,” he said. “Let’s just keep doing it.”