Giants starter Alex Wood, a former Dodger, ‘feels he’s always the best option’
To both his former and current manager, Alex Wood possesses the best kind of self-confidence.
It’s rooted in composure, not cockiness. Reinforced by experience, not ego. Sometimes it’s belied by his good-natured disposition and soft smile off the mound.
But especially at this time of year, amid the pressure of a postseason stage, it’s a burning inner belief that gets stoked all over again.
“He feels he’s always the best option,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said with a smile Sunday. “Which as a major league ballplayer is a good thing.”
Roberts would know. From 2015 to 2018, Wood was a key piece of the Dodgers’ pitching staff, a one-time All-Star who contributed to four division titles and two National League pennants.
The Dodgers struggled against San Francisco Giants pitching, losing to their longtime rival 1-0 in Game 3 of the NLDS. The Dodgers trail the series 2-1.
After suffering an injury-hampered 2019 season following a trade to the Cincinnati Reds, Wood came back to Los Angeles as a free agent last year to help the Dodgers win the World Series.
“A lot of good memories here,” Wood said. “Obviously a lot of postseason runs.”
On Monday night, however, Wood found himself opposite his former club in a critical October clash as the San Francisco Giants’ starting pitcher for a pivotal Game 3 in the NL Division Series.
Corey Knebel’s emergence as a reliable arm in the Dodgers’ bullpen could come in handy if Max Scherzer runs into problems in Game 3.
He certainly performed like the Giants’ best option too in their 1-0 win, tossing 4-2/3 scoreless innings in which he surrendered just two hits and two walks, struck out four, and was removed only after a runner reached base as he was about to begin his third time through the batting order.
“I love these types of atmospheres this time of year,” Wood, 30, said Sunday before making his postseason return to Chavez Ravine. “It’s something that really pushes you forward. You really learn a lot about yourself.”
Monday’s playoff outing was the left-hander’s first since last October’s World Series clincher against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Despite being limited by injuries and relegated to the bullpen during his return to the Dodgers in last year’s shortened season, Wood tossed two perfect innings of relief in Game 6 of the Fall Classic, crucially keeping the Rays’ early lead to only one run on a night in which the Dodgers would stage a sixth-inning comeback and end a championship drought that dated to 1988.
“I don’t think we win the World Series last year without him,” Roberts said.
As the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants meet in the National League Division Series, we asked fans what this rivalry means.
That game was also Wood’s last as a Dodger. The veteran was a free agent once again last offseason, and his internal desire was clear. He believed he could still be an impact starting pitcher, and while he would have been open to staying with the Dodgers, the Giants offered him a better opportunity to pitch in the rotation — to prove his best days hadn’t passed.
“I really take a lot of pride in what we accomplished my five years in L.A. and finally getting over that ultimate hurdle last year and being able to win a World Series,” Wood said, adding: “I could have maybe came back here and battled it out. But they got a lot of good arms, a lot of good young arms that are the future of the Dodgers.”
Wood became an integral part of the Giants’ 107-win emergence, going 10-4 with a 3.83 ERA over 26 starts.
Monday night’s outing was one of his best of the season, as he silenced the Dodgers’ lineup using almost only sinkers and sliders, working both sides of the plate and the top and bottom of the zone to limit hard contact and avoid big jams.
“He always wants the ball. He wants to stay in the game as long as possible. He always feels like he’s the best option to get the next three hitters out. And you can’t help but respect that level of competitiveness.”
— Giants manager Gabe Kapler on pitcher Alex Wood
He wasn’t the only former Dodgers pitcher the Giants relied upon in the Game 3 win either. Reliever Jake McGee, who was part of last year’s World Series team, stranded a couple of inherited runners in the seventh, extinguishing the Dodgers’ best chance at a comeback.
Wood remains close with many of his old Dodgers teammates and reminisced Sunday about all the lessons he learned in that clubhouse, even as recently as last year when he was locker-mates with David Price and Clayton Kershaw.
But he said the strangeness of pitching against the Dodgers has worn off by now after he faced the team three times this regular season.
Instead, he pitched Game3 focused on himself and his new team — channeling the fiery self-confidence that almost everyone on both sides has come to know so well.
“When I read Dave’s quotes,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said a few hours after Roberts talked Sunday, “I realized, like, you really get to know that as a manager. He always wants the ball. He wants to stay in the game as long as possible. He always feels like he’s the best option to get the next three hitters out. And you can’t help but respect that level of competitiveness.”
The San Francisco Giants’ meteoric rise over the last year breeds hope that the Dodgers-Giants playoff matchups could become a regular occurrence.
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