LOS ANGELES — Alex Wood lingered alone in the Dodger Stadium visitor’s dugout after he addressed the media. The meticulously manicured diamond was a familiar scene, yet he was viewing it through a foreign perspective.
Twenty feet outside the dugout, an all-caps “2021 POSTSEASON” MLB logo was plastered on the first-base foul territory grass in blue. In exactly 24 hours from when Wood sat on his phone on the dugout bench, he’ll be walking across the signage and taking the mound.
The last time Alex Wood pitched in the playoffs, he was in Globe Life Field in front of cardboard fans, shutting out the Tampa Bay Rays for two innings in Dodger blue. He spent five years with the Dodgers and helped lead LA to its first World Series title since 1988.
“I don’t think we get through Game 6 without Alex Wood and his valuable innings,” Dodger manager Dave Roberts said.
Now Wood’s back in Dodger Stadium, starting a pivotal Game 3 of the NLDS against many of his former teammates.
“Every year’s a new start, right?” Wood said. “Yeah, I mean a lot of good memories here, obviously. A lot of postseason runs…Tomorrow will be totally unique in and of itself and I’m excited for the opportunity and the challenge”
Wood, who has allowed two earned runs in 13 innings for the Giants since returning from the injured list, said he’s past the “weirdness” of pitching against his former team. He’s already made three starts against LA in 2021.
Not only did Wood win the World Series with the Dodgers last year, he also won his fantasy league against his teammates. He went out on top, leaving that league in favor of one with the Giants — including president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.
Wood has Tom Brady, Antonio Gibson and Chase Claypool on his team and will improve to 3-2 on the year this week. Since the postseason began, he hasn’t talked to many of the Dodgers. He caught up with just one Sunday, and they only talked about fantasy football.
Cutting the lines of communication doesn’t change how familiar the Dodgers are with Wood. There’s not much he can do to surprise them after five years of pitching in front of them.
“They will have a great plan,” Wood said. “They know me really well. They do a great job of preparing for anyone and everyone, especially this time of year. So just got to kind of go out and execute, play the chess match, take what the game gives you, feel it out as you go, and try and make pitches and try and execute.
“So I love these atmospheres this time of year. It’s something that really pushes you forward. You really learn a lot about yourself this time of year. And I feel like my stuff’s been good and I’ve thrown the ball well, so I’m excited for the opportunity tomorrow, and so we’ll see what happens, but I’m looking forward to it.”
The flipside is Wood knows his former teammates just as well as they know him. He doesn’t need it, but that could give him extra confidence.
“I have a very good respect and admiration for him, consider him a friend, and he’s a great competitor,” Roberts said. “I think he feels he’s always the best option, which as Major League ballplayers, that’s a good thing.”
The southpaw signed a one-year, $3 million deal with SF this offseason in part to avoid competing for a spot in LA’s deep rotation. It paid off. Wood proved he can be a reliable starter, going 10-4 with a 3.83 ERA.
He’s also been a steadying presence. In games Wood starts immediately after a Giants loss, SF is 13-1. Of course, the Dodgers took Game 2, putting Wood’s “stopper” reputation to the test.
The winner of Game 3 of a five-game MLB series advances 72% of the time, making Wood’s start even more pivotal than it obviously appears. The Giants better hope Wood can maneuver through the Dodgers lineup like he tinkers with his fantasy roster.