Greinke makes history with pinch-hit single

November 2nd, 2021

ATLANTA -- Maybe Zack Greinke knew something when he was asked after his single in Game 4 of the World Series about possibly being the last pitcher to get a hit if Major League Baseball goes to a universal designated hitter next year.

“We’ll see,” he said Saturday night.

One night later, Greinke stepped into the batter’s box -- this time not as a pitcher, but a pinch-hitter, batting for fellow starter Framber Valdez in the fourth inning. And as he stood on first base for the second straight game following a single, this time a hard-hit line drive to right field, he wasn’t just smiling with Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. He was sharing a laugh.

On a night when the Astros kept their title hopes alive with help from four hits and three RBIs out of the bottom third of their batting order, part of a 9-5 win in Game 5 of the World Series, Greinke’s feat was fitting.

It was also historic. Greinke became the first pitcher with a pinch-hit base hit in the playoffs since 1923, when Jack Bentley had pinch-hits in Games 1 and 4 of the World Series for the New York Giants.

It wasn’t the ideal scenario for Astros manager Dusty Baker, who was hoping to get a deeper outing from Valdez. Adam Duvall’s first-inning grand slam saddled the Astros with a 4-0 deficit that they erased a couple of innings later. After Freddie Freeman’s third-inning solo homer promptly regained Atlanta's lead, 5-4, Baker had to ponder pinch-hitting scenarios.

Valdez lasted just 2 2/3 innings. He batted for himself once, striking out to end the second inning, but was gone by the time the pitcher’s spot came back around. With one out and nobody on in the fourth, Baker had to balance putting a quality hitter to the plate with saving his full-time hitters for later, potentially higher-leverage situations.

“I didn't want to burn one of my other pinch-hitters,” Baker said, “because when you're in the National League, I think they have six extra men and we only have five.”

Baker also lost a pinch-hitting option earlier this Series when catcher Jason Castro, a left-handed hitter and a .389 pinch-hitter in this regular season, was placed on the COVID-19 injured list. Garrett Stubbs replaced him on the roster, but he’s a .182 hitter in 77 career Major League at-bats, and his only postseason appearance was as a late-game defensive replacement in last year’s ALCS.

Given Baker’s options, Greinke -- a .225 career hitter who was 2-for-6 as a pinch-hitter -- was appealing.

“Don't forget,” Baker said after letting him bat with the bases loaded in Game 4, “Greinke is an outstanding hitter.”

He showed it Sunday. Greinke’s line drive off a sinker from Braves right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez was actually the hardest-hit ball by an Astro in Game 5, with an exit velocity of 105.9 miles per hour according to Statcast. It was his seventh-hardest hit since Statcast began tracking in 2015, postseason included.

Greinke looked like a hitter as he rounded first base, eschewing the pitcher’s warmup jacket that he donned the previous night.