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Greinke's incredible curve gets 'Stros back in WS

@juanctoribio
October 26, 2019

WASHINGTON -- As the July 31 Trade Deadline neared, Astros players huddled around TVs inside the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Houston was rumored to be in the market for pitching help, and the players in the room were curious about any potential moves the club might make.

WASHINGTON -- As the July 31 Trade Deadline neared, Astros players huddled around TVs inside the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Houston was rumored to be in the market for pitching help, and the players in the room were curious about any potential moves the club might make.

Once the 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline passed, Astros players didn’t hear of any acquisitions, leading them to believe that the front office stood pat and felt comfortable with the 25 players inside the clubhouse. But minutes after the Deadline, the big news broke:

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 22 WSH 5, HOU 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 23 WSH 12, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 25 HOU 4, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 26 HOU 8, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 27 HOU 7, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 29 WSH 7, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 30 WSH 6, HOU 2 Watch

The Astros had completed a trade with the Diamondbacks that would bring six-time All-Star Zack Greinke to Houston, giving the club the best starting rotation in the Majors. It was the type of move that sent the baseball world into a frenzy, especially the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field.

“We just kept talking about the commitment the organization had in winning to bring a pitcher of Zack’s caliber,” said Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos. “We kept talking about how this year we were going to have an opportunity to make the World Series again.”

As the Astros stared at an 0-2 World Series deficit after losing two home games to the Nationals, they were going to rely on their prized acquisition in a must-win Game 3 on Friday night at Nationals Park.

Most teams don’t have the luxury of trotting out a former Cy Young Award winner in Game 3 of a series, but Houston has Greinke following Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.

Greinke had struggled in the 2019 postseason, entering Friday’s start with a 6.43 ERA over 14 innings in three starts. But games like Friday’s are the reason the Astros acquired Greinke, and the veteran right-hander delivered with his best outing of the postseason in Houston’s 4-1 win.

The Nats’ offense didn’t make it easy for Greinke as they rattled off seven hits and constantly put pressure on him. Greinke, however, was able to limit the damage, allowing one run and striking out six over 4 2/3 innings.

“This guy doesn’t scare off,” said Astros manager AJ Hinch. “This is not somebody that I have any fear whatsoever is not going to be able to handle the stage or the magnitude. This guy has been really good for a really long time.”

With Houston facing a bullpen game in Game 4 on Saturday night, the Astros could’ve benefited from a longer outing by Greinke, but through 95 pitches and with the team holding a one-run lead, the righty had done his job.

“They were putting up good at-bats right from the get-go,” Greinke said. “Never any easy outs.”

Greinke stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings. The Nationals had runners on first and second with nobody out in the second inning, but Greinke was able to get Victor Robles to ground into an inning-ending double play.

In the third inning, the Nats threatened again with two on, one out, but Greinke got Anthony Rendon to fly out for the second out before striking out Asdrúbal Cabrera on a 67 mph rainbow curveball to end the threat.

Greinke's curveball was an effective pitch throughout the night. He threw the pitch 18 times -- 18.9 percent of his offerings -- his ninth most in a game this season. Greinke recorded four swings-and-misses on the pitch, and Nationals hitters went 2-for-8 against the pitch.

“We were really surprised early that they were swinging at Zack’s curveball,” Chirinos said. “Every time we tried curveball, they were swinging. I thought he was tipping his curveball just the way they were attacking his curveball, but we didn’t see anything and we just started mixing his fastball after that, and it started playing really good.”

Greinke exited the game with runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth inning, but reliever Josh James struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end the inning and preserve the Astros’ two-run lead at the time.

Greinke kept Washington off the scoreboard in key situations. It wasn’t always pretty, but he kept a raucous crowd at Nationals Park from completely erupting on the night the World Series returned to D.C. for the first time in decades. Greinke led the charge as the Astros’ pitching staff held the Nats to an 0-for-10 effort with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 baserunners. Now Houston is right back in the best-of-seven series.

“He did what Zack has done for so many years at the big league level,” Chirinos said. “Starts like today [were] the reason why they made the trade for Zack, to give us an opportunity to win a World Series.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.