Greinke's brilliance, game by game
Royals righty put on an amazing display during '09 season
KANSAS CITY -- The numbers add up to something and someone special, most notably Zack Greinke's 2.16 ERA, best in the Major Leagues. And six complete games, four shutouts, 242 strikeouts, an opponents' anemic average of .230 and all the rest.
His 16-8 record wasn't spectacular until you consider he won 25 percent of the Royals' victories and that Kansas City did not exactly conjure up images of Murderers' Row, the Go-Go Sox or Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance.
Greinke had to work hard for everything he got. Few may realize just how dominating he was, but a sifting through each of the 33 starts he made this season is revealing. Greinke believes that, for some reason, he's a fast starter and then his season tails off a bit before a strong finish. That's just about the way it went for him this year. Take a look:
THE BIG BEGINNING:
Games 1 to 10, April 8-May 26
10 games -- Team record 8-2, Greinke's record 8-1
Stats -- 75 IP, 54 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 12 W, 81 K, 0.84 ERA
April 8 at White Sox; Royals won, 2-0: Good sign. Greinke snapped his 0-6 record at U.S. Cellular Field. "He was pretty darn good. I mean 95 [mph], just painting, inside, outside, up and down," Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. You ain't seen nothin' yet, A.J.
April 13 vs. Indians; Royals won, 4-2: Another five shutout innings, but Greinke had to dodge trouble and ran up 104 pitches. Nine more strikeouts, too, for 16 in his first 11 innings. Break out those K-K-K signs.
April 18 at Rangers; Royals won, 2-0: The first of six complete games came primarily because closer Joakim Soria had a sore shoulder. Greinke's scoreless streak back to last season reached 34 innings. And his rapport with catcher Miguel Olivo was growing: "He's calling his game and it's working. I'm adjusting to his style. He calls the inside pitch more than I'm used to."
April 24 vs. Tigers; Royals won, 6-1: His shutout streak ended but his ERA stayed at 0.00 because the Tigers' run scored on an error. A sellout crowd of 36,363 watched on a night that ended with the Royals in first place. This was another complete game with another 10 strikeouts. "I think he's going to be a Cy Young pitcher someday," Olivo said. "I hope this year."
April 29 vs. Blue Jays; Royals won, 11-3: By now a Sports Illustrated cover boy and anointed "The Best Pitcher in Baseball," Greinke became the Majors' first five-game winner. But, in the first inning, the streak of unearned runs finally ended at 29 innings this year and 43 dating to 2008. "He's human, I guess," teammate Willie Bloomquist said. "We better check his pulse and make sure he's OK."
May 4 vs. White Sox; Royals won, 3-0: Reaching 6-0 with his third complete game and second shutout, Greinke prompted this reaction from White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: "It reminds me when we came here one day and we faced [Bret] Saberhagen and he threw a no-hitter. I think this kid's got better stuff than Bret in that particular time." Greinke led the Majors with a 0.40 ERA and 54 strikeouts.
May 9 at Angels: Royals lost, 1-0: Maybe this was a fitting way for Greinke's victory run to end. Both pitchers went the distance and Joe Saunders won a brilliant duel. This also turned out to be the Royals' last day of sole possession of first place; they trailed by mere percentage points for the next six days but the bottom was falling out.
May 15 vs. Orioles; Royals won, 8-1: Greinke and a sellout crowd of 38,353 had to wait 2 1/2 hours to start because of thunderstorms. It was worth it as the Royals ended a six-game losing streak. How about this? He gave up just one run in seven innings and his ERA still went up, to 0.60.
May 21 vs. Indians; Royals lost, 8-3: "Just stupid, really stupid," was Greinke's critique of his pitching after his first no-decision. He gave up two runs as the Indians sent up eight batters in the third inning. But he left leading 3-2 after the sixth only to have the bullpen melt down. And that wouldn't be the last time.
May 26 vs. Tigers; Royals won, 6-1: Sailing to his fifth complete game in 10 starts, Greinke tied Roy Halladay for the Majors' most victories (8). He issued no walks for the fourth time and his control was so sharp, he said: "I wasn't really worried about walking anybody at any time."
THE MORE MODEST MIDDLE:
Games 11 to 22, May 31-Aug. 3
12 games -- Team record 2-10, Greinke's record 2-6
Stats: 77 1/3 IP, 89 H, 40 R, 33 ER, 19 W, 81 K, 3.84 ERA
May 31 vs. White Sox; Royals lost, 7-4: A 4-1 lead after three innings would have been plenty in Greinke's first 10 starts. Not this time. He threw 92 pitches in five innings and left after seven with the score tied, 4-4. His ERA went over 1.00 for the first time during the 2008 season, all the way to 1.10.
June 5 at Blue Jays; Royals lost, 9-3: This was his worst start of the season as he gave up seven runs (five earned) in five innings. "Even the outs were hit hard," Greinke said. His no-homer streak ended at 111 innings, longest in the Majors since 1997. "I just got crushed," he said.
June 11 at Indians; Royals lost, 4-3: Bouncing back with 7 1/3 strong innings, Greinke was lifted in the eighth with a 3-1 lead. Yep, the bullpen coughed it up, and he was left with a no-decision in a 10-inning loss, memorable because the game-ending single struck a seagull and kept center fielder Coco Crisp from throwing home.
June 17 vs. Diamondbacks; Royals lost, 12-5: Errors hurt but Greinke's command wasn't real crisp and he gave up six runs (four earned), departing in the seventh inning. The loss dropped his record to 8-3, raised his ERA to 1.96 and left him with just one victory in his last six starts.
June 23 at Astros; Royals won, 2-1: This eight-inning performance ended a stretch of five straight blowout Interleague losses by KC. It also marked the sixth of 12 times Greinke would win after a Royals loss. "Facing this kid today, it's kind of like when Roger Clemens was pitching back in the day," said the Astros' Miguel Tejada. Also, Zack batted eighth but went 0-for-3.
June 28 at Pirates; Royals won, 3-2: After a 59-minute rain delay in the seventh inning, Greinke did not return but got his 10th victory, tying three others for the Major League lead. His three strikeouts matched his season low. He also banged a double, his fourth big-league hit.
July 3 vs. White Sox; Royals lost, 5-0: A sellout Kauffman crowd saw no runs by the Royals's offense while Pierzynski and Scott Podsednik beat up on Greinke with three hits each. Their combined career average against him jumped to .478. Leaving after six innings and 82 pitches, Greinke admitted: "I'm more tired than usual because I've thrown more than usual. Every pitcher is tired by now."
July 8 at Tigers; Royals lost, 3-1: Greinke was headed for the All-Star Game with a 10-5 record after this loss and a 2.12 ERA, best in the Majors. The Tigers scored all three runs in the first two innings during which Greinke walked the first batter he faced and somehow missed a popped-up bunt. "Just a bunch of stupid stuff happened," he said.
July 14, All-Star Game at St. Louis: Although he didn't get the start -- Halladay did -- Greinke pitched a perfect inning with two strikeouts in the AL's 4-3 win. Before the game he got to meet President Barack Obama, who was wearing a White Sox jacket. "I should've told him the White Sox are terrible," Greinke said. "Instead I told him [White Sox outfielder] Jermaine Dye got robbed. He should've been on the All-Star team. He agreed."
July 18 vs. Rays; Royals lost, 4-2: Seemingly rejuvenated after the All-Star break, Greinke pitched seven strong innings and left with a 2-1 lead. Ah, but relievers John Bale and Juan Cruz gave up three runs in the eighth, one of four leads the bullpen blew for Greinke during the season. If they'd have held them, he'd have been a 20-game winner.
July 24 vs. Rangers; Royals lost, 2-0: Not even Greinke's superb pitching -- one run on three hits and 10 strikeouts in seven innings -- could prevent the Royals' 10th straight loss. "I keep saying it, but our team is pretty good," Greinke insisted. "It's not like in years past, when you're losing. It's a different feeling. We're better than some of the teams we're facing, and we're just not getting it done."
July 29 at Orioles; Royals lost, 7-3: Delayed by rain, Greinke gave up a two-run homer and also escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning before reeling off five scoreless innings. He left leading, 3-2, but the bullpen gave it up in what became a 7-19 month for the team. "We've just found a way to lose a lot," Greinke said.
Aug. 3 at Rays; Royals lost, 10-4: This game ranked in badness right with his start at Toronto. In five innings, Greinke gave up a season-high 10 hits and six earned runs. He did strike out nine, though. This marked the sixth straight start he'd made without a victory, his record slipping to 10-7.
THE FANTASTIC FINISH:
Games 23 to 33, Aug. 8-Oct. 3
11 games -- Team record 7-4, Greinke's record 6-1
Stats: 77 IP, 52 H, 16 R, 15 ER, 20 W, 80 K, 1.75 ERA
Aug. 8 vs. A's; Royals won, 12-6: Greinke wasn't happy with himself -- "I pitched terrible and we won. So it's a team game and winning today really wasn't me, it was everyone," he said -- but he finally got back in the win column. Atypically, the Royals scored nine runs when he was in the game, one more than the total in his previous six non-victory starts.
Aug. 14 at Tigers; Royals lost, 1-0: Locked in a shutout duel, Greinke barely watched rival Jarrod Washburn, instead going into a dark room behind the dugout between innings. At least he couldn't see his teammates' futility at the plate. Old story anyway. This was the fourth time that the Royals were shut out in a Greinke start.
Aug. 19 at White Sox; Royals lost, 4-2: Greinke gave up just 11 homers all season and three of them came in this loss, his eighth and last of the season. He came into the game last among AL starting pitchers in run support (3.6 a game) and the Royals didn't even do that. "If you give up four runs, you should lose," Greinke said.
Aug. 25 vs. Indians; Royals won, 6-2: Wow, 15 strikeouts, a new club record, and in only eight innings of work. For some reason, Greinke didn't know he'd broken Mark Gubicza's record, thinking Luke Hochevar had 15 instead of 13 previously. The crowd knew. "I didn't know why they were cheering so much. It didn't really make sense to me," he said. After 117 pitches (77 strikes), he was gassed and let Robinson Tejeda pitch the ninth.
Aug. 30 at Mariners; Royals won, 3-0: Quite a follow-up -- a one-hitter at Safeco Field. The only hit came in the second inning, a looping liner to center field off the end of Kenji Johjima's bat. Greinke had just one walk and five strikeouts, retiring the last 22 batters he faced. "He definitely proved today why he's in contention for the Cy Young Award," said the Mariners' Mike Sweeney, an ex-teammate.
Sept. 5 vs. Angels; Royals lost, 2-1: Holding the Angels to a 1-1 tie, Greinke left after eight innings and the Royals lost in the 11th. It was another good yet fruitless game for him. "He's unbelievable to watch, he's spectacular," said Royals reliever Jamey Wright. "I'd just like to say I played with him the season he won the Cy Young." His ERA dipped to 2.22.
Sept. 11 at Indians; Royals won, 2-1: Another great pitching performance, one run in seven innings, and another no-decision as KC finally snapped the 1-1 tie in the 12th. This was the sixth time during the season that KC scored one or no runs in a Greinke start, resulting in no victories -- just four losses and two no-decisions for him. In those six games, he gave up a total of seven earned runs.
Sept. 17 at Tigers; Royals won, 9-2: There was a big scare when Miguel Cabrera led off the fourth with a line drive that drilled into Greinke's valuable right arm just above the elbow. He picked up the ball and threw out Cabrera, stayed in the game for five innings, got his 14th win and X-rays were negative. "Really, the only thing that's bad is if it hits you in the face," he reflected. Of course.
Sept. 22 vs. Red Sox; Royals won, 5-1: In his only outing against the AL's "big two," the Red Sox and Yankees, Greinke won style points with six shutout innings on two hits. If David Ortiz had a Cy Young vote, he'd give it to Greinke. And Sox manager Terry Francona said: "He has everything." As for Greinke himself, he thought it was a pretty good outing but, "It wasn't amazing."
Sept. 27 vs. Twins; Royals won, 4-1: In his final home appearance, the atmosphere was electric with the crowd of 28,721 lavishing a standing ovation even after his pregame warmups. He pitched out of some jams, fanning Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel with the bases loaded. "Flat-out nasty," Mauer said. The win slowed the Twins' chase after the Tigers for the AL Central title.
Oct. 3 at Twins; Royals lost, 5-4: This time Mauer won in a faceoff with an RBI single that snapped a scoreless tie in the sixth. It turned into a four-run inning, just the second time all year a team scored that many runs in one inning against Greinke. With 48,644 raising the Metrodome roof, he finished with a no-decision and his ERA rose from 2.06 to a final 2.16.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.