Over the offseason, Alex Wood was picking his poison between two rivals. One side of the coin was blue and white, the other orange and black.
Wood ultimately decided to sign a one-year, $3 million contract with the Giants -- two days after his 30th birthday -- instead of returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team he just played a key role on in them winning their first World Series since 1988. The veteran lefty nearly signed with San Francisco prior to the 2020 season, and to no surprise, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was a big reason why.
While Wood signed with the Dodgers, a team he has spent parts of five seasons with, ahead of last season, he was well worth the wait for the Giants in their 1-0 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday night.
Manager Gabe Kapler turned to Wood for the biggest game of the year, and Wood responded by pitching 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball against his former team. He walked two and had four strikeouts, giving up just two hits. Max Scherzer, taking the mound with the Dodgers regaining home-field advantage, was supposed to be the story of Monday night. One mistake was the difference, but it didn't come from Wood, facing a lineup he knows all too well.
"Anytime you go against Max Scherzer, you know it's gonna be a long night," Wood said after the win. "So, just try and keep it close, give our guys a chance to scrap a run across."
When the Giants signed Wood, he was coming off the worst regular-season of his career. In nine games -- two starts -- he had a career-high 6.39 ERA for the Dodgers. Opponents hit .304 off him with a .918 OPS. It's not like he was much better the year prior in 2019, when he had a 5.80 ERA with the Cincinnati Reds. That season, Wood gave up a .291 opponent's batting average with a .926 OPS.
Still, Zaidi badly wanted him to come to San Francisco after both seasons. Zaidi, who was the Dodgers' general manager before joining the Giants ahead of the 2019 season, saw Wood at his best when he was an All-Star with the Dodgers in 2017, and when it matters most -- the playoffs.
"These are the moments that test you," Wood said. "If you're in the big leagues, if you're a big league ball player you're one the best at what you do on planet earth. So you work hard all offseason, you work hard all season for things to culminate in moments like these.
"For it to go my way tonight and our team's way after the work we put in all year and the work that I know those guys do day-in and day-out, is really special."
The Giants started the season without Wood after he underwent an ablation procedure on his tight back. He then came out of the gates firing on all cylinders and had a sub-2.00 ERA through his first six starts with San Francisco. The rest of the season was full of ups and downs, including missing nearly a month in late August to the middle of September on the COVID-19 IL.
But these are the games he was signed for. Not May, not even September. October baseball is why Wood is here.
The last time he pitched in the playoffs coming into Monday night was Game 6 of the 2020 World Series with the Dodgers. He threw four shutout innings in the World Series for Los Angeles, and only allowed one earned run over 6 2/3 innings last postseason. The only question was his work as a starter in this part of his career, especially this late in the year.
Wood hadn't started a playoff game since Game 4 of the 2017 World Series, which also came as a Dodger, and with Zaidi as his GM. He allowed one earned run over 5 2/3 innings, and then made 14 postseason appearances -- all as a reliever -- before his start Monday night at Dodger Stadium.
"He's just so incredibly competitive, so fiery, always feels like he's the best option to get the next three hitters out," Kapler said. "I think you probably saw that he still felt like he was a good option to get more hitters out and we love that about him. I wouldn't take away any of that fire, any that have competitiveness.
"I was telling [pitching coach Andrew Bailey], before anything happened in today's game, I said no matter what happens in tonight's game, I love having Alex Wood on the mound because of how quickly he works, how much he attacks, what a great teammate he is, how competitive he is, and he kind of brought all of those characteristics to the mound tonight."
The wait can be the hardest part in baseball at times. We wait 162 games, just to get to the dance that gives us bragging rights over our friends. In the end, though, it brings us the pure taste of satisfaction under the bright lights of the postseason.
With the season on the line, Wood again showed Zaidi and the rest of the front office that he was well worth the wait, beating the wind and the oh-so-dangerous Dodgers lineup with a competitive fire that stayed lit all night long.