With their season on the line, the Los Angeles Dodgers felt confident handing the ball to Zack Greinke in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. And with good reason, their right-handed compliment to ace Clayton Kershaw was incredible down the stretch, posting a 1.57 ERA over his final 18 regular season starts.
Despite the Dodgers dropping his two postseason starts before Game 5, he hasn't been too shabby there, either. In fact, in Game 1 Greinke held St. Louis to two earned runs over eight innings while striking out 10.
Bottom line, he was the right man for the job, though it didn't appear that way out of the gate on Wednesday afternoon. In a matter of nine pitches, Greinke and the Dodgers were on the ropes just hoping to survive the first round. Matt Carpenter led off the game with a single. Carlos Beltran followed with a four-pitch walk. And then Matt Holliday singled to load the bases with nobody out.
It was an immediate test of Greinke's will. One mistake — a wild pitch, hanging curveball or otherwise — seemed destined to open the floodgates and threaten the Dodgers' season. But Greinke passed the test and pulled off an incredible escape. 11 pitches later he was back in the dugout after striking out Matt Adams and getting Yadier Molina to ground into an inning-ending double play.
A bullet was dodged, though Greinke acknowledged there was no secret plan for escape.
"With Molina, I know if you hit on the ground there is a good chance it's either going to be a hit or a double‑play. Risky going in, bases loaded because he could do some damage. It was just, I mean, it worked out," Greinke said. "But with Molina there is nothing you could do that you know is going to work. He can adjust to anything, and you just, I kind of got lucky, I guess. I made a good pitch, but still even with a good pitch he can hurt you, and it just worked out."
Regardless of how, the threat was definitely over, the game was still scoreless and the Dodgers hopes were still very much alive... for the moment.
After Los Angeles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning — thanks partially to a two-out RBI single from Greinke himself — the Cardinals immediately answered with another threat.
Again, it was the top three hitters doing the damage. Carpenter started it with another single. Beltran followed with an RBI triple off the center field wall that was eerily similar to his two-run double against Greinke in Game 1. And then Holliday doubled him home to tie the score. A single by Matt Adams complicated matters even further, putting runners at the corners, but Greinke stood his ground again by getting Molina with another double play grounder.
If the first double play kept hope alive in Los Angeles, then the second double play cemented its presence. It was the turning point for Greinke, who was flawless over his final four innings — he retired the final 13 batters he faced in order. But more importantly, it was the turning point for the entire Dodgers team, as the offense connected for its first four home runs in the series over the next six innings.
One positive followed another, until the road back to St. Louis was completed with a 6-4 victory. No, the Cardinals didn't go down without a fight, plating two runs in the ninth off closer Kenley Jansen. But their late rally only served to highlight just how important Greinke's great escapes, clutch hitting and ability to settle in were to the outcome.
It wasn't exactly smooth sailing, but it was undoubtedly a shining moment for Zack Greinke. He answered the challenge. Now he can only sit back and hope another challenge awaits him, whether it be a relief appearance in a Game 7, or a Game 1 assignment in the World Series.
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