Right-hander strikes out 10 Cards over eight innings of two-run ball
ST. LOUIS -- Before Carlos Beltran and Kenley Jansen played their roles in a 13-inning classic at Busch Stadium Friday night, there was Zack Greinke. Greinke, the starting pitcher who nearly silenced the Cardinals entirely, sucking the early momentum from a sold-out crowd. Greinke -- the Dodgers' second-best pitcher, mind you -- who submitted the best playoff performance of his career.
In his return to the National League Championship Series, Greinke delivered his vintage best, holding the Cardinals to two runs over eight innings of an eventual 3-2 Dodgers loss in Game 1. He struck out 10 batters and walked just one, proving -- if there was still some doubt -- that he belongs on this stage.
"That's why the game lasted as long as it did -- great starting pitching," Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "Greinke did a great job."
Even the runs against Greinke might never have scored had Andre Ethier corralled Beltran's two-run double in the third. As it was, Ethier fumbled the ball as he met it and the center-field fence at about the same time, sullying Greinke's final line.
Everything else about that line was spectacular. Allowing only five baserunners in eight innings, Greinke became the third pitcher to strike out 10 or more Cardinals in a postseason game, and the first since the St. Louis Browns' Denny Galehouse in 1944.
"That was maybe the best game that I've ever caught in my life back there, as far as what I was receiving from him," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "He was in complete command on everything. He had both sides of the plate working, and that was the best curveball's probably been all season long. For me personally, that's what hurts the most about walking out without a win."
The win never came because of a three-batter stretch in the third that stuck Greinke with a no-decision. After striking out the first two batters of the inning, Greinke threw a fastball down and in that opposing pitcher Joe Kelly served into left field for a single. He then walked Carpenter after jumping ahead of him, 1-2, and gave up the double that Ethier could not corral.
"I knew that today was going to be a very difficult day because Greinke is a good pitcher," Beltran said. "After my first at-bat, I went to the video room to look at where the pitches were, because to me they felt like they were outside and right on the edges for strikes. So in my second at-bat, I had a little bit of an idea of how they were trying to pitch me. I was looking for a pitch out there."
Beltran smoked it, and that was that. Retiring eight straight prior to St. Louis' third-inning rally, Greinke set down another 10 of 11 after it. His fastball reached 95 miles per hour, his curveball dipped into the low 70s and his other primary pitches -- a sinker, changeup and slider -- all generated multiple swings and misses.
"For the most part I was good," said Greinke, who came into this postseason with a 6.48 ERA in three previous October starts with the Brewers. "But with two outs, I should have finished that inning before they scored any runs."
Though Greinke is not the Dodgers' No. 1 starter, that is only because teammate Clayton Kershaw is the NL's probable Cy Young Award winner. For most of the summer, Greinke also pitched like an ace, leading the league in winning percentage (.789) and ranking fourth in ERA (2.63).
So after using Kershaw on short rest to wrap up the NL Division Series earlier this week, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was thrilled to turn to Greinke in Game 1 of the second round, knowing he could also use him in a potential Game 5 on regular rest.
Assuming the Dodgers reach that game at Dodger Stadium next week, they will hope only for a similar effort with different results.
"It was a tough game all-around," Greinke said. "Well-played by both teams. We just lost."