When you reflect on the 2017 Dodgers (and if you’re like most fans, you probably do it on the daily), who and what comes to mind first? Cody Bellinger and his NL rookie-record home runs have to be immediate. There’s Justin Turner, the tireless campaign to get him to the All-Star Game, and his NLCS home run. Kyle Farmer’s walk-off debut was voted the most popular moment (and veritably saved my life). Perhaps, more on the melancholy side, Rich Hill’s near-perfect game in Pittsburgh.
One person who might not occupy fans’ vivid memories of the magical 2017 run is Alex Wood. With all the focus on Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in the recent Cincinnati trade, he seems almost entirely ignored in fan reactions and trade analysis, despite the fact the team dealt away a solid left-handed pitcher. So as the 2017 team becomes distant through the years, there’s a chance he could become obscure-to-forgotten a la Brian Holton.
Should this be the case, it would be a travesty. Wood was not only one of the 2017 squad’s biggest surprise stars (perhaps second only to Chris Taylor in that regard), but one of the best players on the team period. He went a mind-blowing 16-3, leading all of MLB with an .842 winning percentage, and boasted a miniscule 2.72 ERA. It was enough to earn a place at the All-Star Game in Miami alongside the likes of Kershaw, Turner and Jansen.
This piece, however, emphasizes one particular performance of his that year. It came in the biggest stage possible for him: game four of the World Series. Wood came into the game with a somewhat underwhelming playoff track record for the Dodgers. His first effort, in relief in game three of the 2015 NLDS, saw him give up a scorching home run to Yoenis Cespedes that put the game out of reach. The 2017 postseason hadn’t offered much of a chance to prove himself. He didn’t even get to start in the NLDS due to the sweep, and his loss in game four against Chicago prevented another sweep.
On paper, the game shouldn’t have been anything more narrative-wise than a relative must-win for the Dodgers to guarantee a game six at home. But an incendiary event in game three had fueled an unexpected level of bad blood. Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, after hitting a home run off Yu Darvish, was caught on the MLB International Feed doing the heinous slanted-eye gesture. Things only worsened when Gurriel avoided a suspension in the series, and absurdly received a standing ovation in game four from Houston fans. In a team meeting prior to the game four, Dodger players promised to win for Darvish.
With a chance to even the series and avenge Darvish, Wood took the mound opposite Houston’s Charlie Morton. The two aces traded zeroes into the sixth inning, but Wood was even more remarkable in that he didn’t allow a single hit. Facing an Astros offense that had exploded the past two games, at their home stadium where they were hitherto undefeated all postseason, he held them hitless for 5 2/3 innings. The no-hitter and shutout were lost when George Springer hit one of his 1,567,095 home runs that series, bringing an end to Wood’s night in the sixth.
It was truly unfair that Wood could end up the losing pitcher as a result of one hit. The game was far from over, granted, and it was only 1-0. Yet even with the steady hands of Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson taking over in relief, the Dodgers’ continued inability to score made a tough-luck loss seem inevitable. The offense was so glacial I even likened it to the historically awful one in the 1966 World Series while commenting at True Blue L.A.
Then, in the top of the seventh, the bats suddenly stirred to life. Cody Bellinger, inept for the most part at the plate that series, ripped a double to left. Logan Forsythe of all people plunked a two-out single to bring him home and tie things up. In the top of the ninth, the floodgates burst open. Bellinger broke the tie with an RBI double, followed by an Austin Barnes sacrifice fly. Joc Pederson delivered the knockout blow with a three-run home run off Joe Musgrove to set up a 6-2 victory. The only downside was that the outburst didn’t come in time to give Wood the official win, which went to Watson.
As it turned out, the game took place on a day of manifold significance for Wood. October 28 was the day his parents were engaged nearly three decades prior. It was also eight years to the day his best friend was paralyzed in an accident. To top it all off, it was his girlfriend’s birthday. All of them were in the stands to see him make history, becoming the first pitcher since Jerry Koosman of the 1969 Mets to throw at least 5 2/3 no-hit innings in a World Series game.
As the years go by, Alex Wood’s emotional performance in the 2017 World Series deserves recognition. At the moment, the fresher World Series memory involving him is the pinch-hit blast he surrendered Eduardo Nunez. I say, don’t let that be how you remember Robert Alexander Wood. Instead, remember his brilliance in Houston in a game the Dodgers not only had to win for their chances in the World Series, but for their integrity in defending Yu Darvish in a trying moment.
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