'Vintage Greinke' in potential farewell start

Veteran RHP gives Astros a chance in Game 4 with 4 scoreless IP, base hit

October 31st, 2021

ATLANTA -- isn’t ready to ponder his future after what could be his final start as an Astro.

“Tough question,” he said following Houston’s 3-2 loss Saturday to the Braves in Game 4 of the World Series. “I don't think I want to answer that at this time.”

As the 38-year-old looked back on his potential finale, however, he could be excused for a sense of déjà vu.

Two years to the day after Greinke pitched the Astros to within eight outs of a World Series title with a Game 7 gem, he pitched another strong start in a game Houston needed, only to watch a heartbreaking rally once he left.

Unlike the 2019 World Series against the Nationals, there was no question about the hook he received in Game 4 Saturday after four scoreless innings on the mound and one memorable hit at the plate against the Braves at Truist Park.

After all Greinke battled to get back to this point, he gave the Astros a chance to even the Fall Classic before Atlanta rallied for a 3-1 Series lead.

Greinke even contributed with his bat in the second inning, becoming the first Astros pitcher to get a hit in a World Series game and the first American League pitcher with a hit since Corey Kluber for Cleveland in 2016.

On a night when the Braves turned to Dylan Lee for his first Major League start, Greinke’s outing was an example of the value of experience. His stuff isn’t like his prime years, but his poise prevailed.

“He was vintage Greinke,” manager Dusty Baker said.

Eleven days after Greinke lasted just 1 1/3 innings and walked three of his nine batters in Game 4 of the ALCS in Boston, he was much more in command Saturday. Though he yielded a single in each of his four innings, he didn’t have a runner in scoring position and didn’t give up a walk. Only one of Greinke’s 14 batters reached a three-ball count; four fell into 0-2 holes.

The difference was command. Unlike in Boston, where Greinke struggled with everything besides his fastball and didn’t induce a swinging strike in 37 pitches, he had everything working Saturday. His 12 swings and misses included four on his changeup, three each on his fastball and slider, and two on his curveball.

Greinke induced ground-ball double plays to end his final two innings -- one from Freddie Freeman to end the third, the other from Joc Pederson, who was 9-for-30 with seven extra-base hits for his career off Greinke entering the night.

Greinke credited some between-starts work before the World Series began.

“I felt good, definitely,” he said. “Best outing for me in like a month and a half or so.”

Not coincidentally, it was also his longest outing since then. Before Saturday’s game, pitching coach Brent Strom told Jon Morosi of MLB.com and MLB Network that he’d “dearly love” to get 15 outs from Greinke, but anything beyond that “might be a little bit pie-in-the-sky.”

Greinke got 12. He might have had a chance for three more if he didn’t have to hit.

Greinke’s performance came on the second anniversary of his last World Series outing, having held down the Nationals on one hit for 6 1/3 innings in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Then Anthony Rendon homered, Juan Soto walked to put the tying run on base and then-Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to his bullpen.

The rest, of course, is history. Will Harris replaced Greinke, Howie Kendrick hit a go-ahead two-run homer, and the Nationals won their first title. It was arguably the most scrutinized managerial pitching move in modern World Series memory until Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled Blake Snell after 5 1/3 innings under similar circumstances in Game 6 of last year’s Fall Classic.

This time, it was the pitcher’s spot -- the eighth spot in Baker’s batting order Saturday -- that chased Greinke. He had singled up the middle off Kyle Wright in his first at-bat Saturday, grinning at first base as he donned the pitching jacket. He ditched the jacket once he reached second base with two outs, dancing off the bag in hopes of a run-scoring hit.

That did not deter the Braves from intentionally walking Yuli Gurriel twice with two outs to bring Greinke to bat in RBI situations. He stepped to bat with the bases loaded in the third inning and hit a first-pitch curveball from Wright, but grounded out to second.

“Greinke swung the bat well. He got the pitch that he was looking for,” Baker said. “And we really needed to stretch Greinke out some, because we've been going to that bullpen like super early every day.”

When Greinke’s spot came back up with two outs and two on in the top of the fifth inning, Baker pinch-hit with Marwin Gonzalez. Greinke didn’t take issue.

“I started to get tired that last inning a little bit when [Austin] Riley was having a really long at-bat,” said Greinke, citing Riley’s seventh-pitch single in the fourth inning. “So it was probably pretty close to the limit, that's for sure.”

That could be it for Greinke as an Astro as well. His six-year contract that Houston picked up from Arizona in his 2019 trade is up, sending him into free agency after the World Series.