CHICAGO (AP) - Alex Wood finally returned to the mound Wednesday night. A familiar problem followed him all the way to Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.
Wood surrendered three homers in his first start in three weeks, and the Los Angeles Dodgers lost for the first time in this year’s playoffs, falling 3-2 to Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs.
“For not pitching in three weeks, I thought he was sharp, competed, and gave us a chance to win,” manager Dave Roberts said.
The 26-year-old Wood, who had a career-high 16 wins this season, was lined up for Game 4 of the NLDS, but Los Angeles swept Arizona in three games. The Dodgers then took the first three against the Cubs, giving the left-hander a chance to pitch the franchise into its first World Series since it won the championship in 1988.
He retired the side in order in the first inning, but he made a couple of costly mistakes in the second.
After Anthony Rizzo struck out swinging, Willson Contreras drove Wood’s next pitch off the scoreboard in left field for his second homer of the playoffs - Statcast projected it at 491 feet . Javier Baez connected with two out, sending another drive deep to left.
Wood then retired eight in a row before Baez got him again in the fifth, going down to pull a low 1-1 pitch over the wall in left for a 3-1 lead.
“A little frustrating for sure,” Wood said. “I don’t know how many parks that ball gets out in, but it’s the nature of the beast. Made a good pitch, he got up in the air and it went out. Nothing you can do about it now.”
He departed after Arrieta’s two-out single, and Ross Stripling retired Albert Almora Jr. to end the inning.
“I felt my stuff was pretty good,” Wood said. “I made two mistakes early in that one inning, gave up the two solo shots. Pulled a fastball and didn’t get the breaking ball far enough inside. Besides that, I mean, I thought my stuff was pretty good.”
Wood broke out in a big way this season, helping Los Angeles to a major league-best 104 wins. He also had a career-low 2.72 ERA over 27 games, 25 starts.
But the long ball was a frequent issue in the last part of the season. He allowed two homers in 80 2/3 innings before the All-Star break and 13 in his final 71 2/3 innings.
“Just execution,” he said of the difference.
Wood allowed four hits, struck out seven and walked none in his first career playoff start. He also pitched in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS against Chicago, tossing two scoreless innings.
Game 5 is Thursday night at Wrigley Field. Ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw pitches for Los Angeles, and Jose Quintana gets the ball for Chicago.
“We’re going to be all right,” Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger said. “We got the right guy going tomorrow.”
While Wood faltered, the NL West champions struggled against Arrieta in what might have been in his last start with the Cubs. The right-hander, who is eligible for free agency after the season, struck out nine while pitching 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
Los Angeles pulled within one on Justin Turner’s homer off Wade Davis in the eighth, but that was it for the Dodgers. Chase Utley struck out swinging with two on to end the inning, and Davis got Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play for the save.
“It’s a good team over there,” Turner said. “They are the defending champs, so they are not just going to roll over and hand it to us. We got to go out and prepare and play hard and hopefully get a better result tomorrow.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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