He faced a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first inning and gave up four straight hits in a two-run third that tied the game.
After that, Greinke was stellar.
He retired 13 consecutive batters and Los Angeles went on to a 6-4 victory Wednesday that trimmed the Cardinals' lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven NL championship series.
''Even in that first inning, bases loaded, no outs,'' Dodgers infielder Adrian Gonzalez said, ''he just knew if he kept making his pitches, he was going to get out of it, and he did. That just shows he's got the whole package.''
The Dodgers earned themselves a trip back to St. Louis for Game 6 on Friday night, with ace Clayton Kershaw scheduled to start for them against rookie Michael Wacha.
When those two squared off in Game 2, the Cardinals won 1-0 on an unearned run.
''He's a bright star, that kid,'' Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker said of Wacha. ''He's an Adam Wainwright in the making, and that's a scary thing.''
The Dodgers got a scare in the ninth, when St. Louis scored twice off closer Kenley Jansen before he struck out pinch-hitter Adron Chambers with two on to end it.
''We had a couple of opportunities to do something, and we just couldn't make it happen,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. ''These guys have done a tremendous job in those exact same situations all season long. You're going to have games where you just can't make it happen, and we've got to figure out a way to get it done the next time we get a chance.''
The Dodgers needed five games to hit a home run in the series. Once Adrian Gonzalez powered up for the first one, their dormant offense broke loose.
Gonzalez homered twice, and Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis added solo shots to help preserve the Dodgers' season. They hit .274 in three games at home after batting .184 during the first two games in St. Louis.
''Guys weren't ready to lose today,'' Crawford said.
The Cardinals also led last year's NLCS 3-1 before losing three straight games to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
''We're looking to do the same thing,'' Gonzalez said.
Greinke settled down on the mound, and even delivered an RBI single.
''That was big,'' he said about his eventful first inning. ''I was real nervous out there with that situation and trying to make a good pitch.''
The Dodgers regrouped after Greinke squandered an early 2-0 lead just as he did in Game 1, which Los Angeles lost 3-2 in 13 innings on the road.
After neither team homered in the first three games for the first time in NLCS history, the big bats came out. The Cardinals used a two-run homer by Matt Holliday and a solo shot from pinch-hitter Shane Robinson to win 4-2 on Tuesday night.
This time, Gonzalez went 3 for 4 with two solo homers and three runs scored. His two-out shot in the eighth made it 6-2.
''We have a team that can bounce back and do some pretty incredible things out there,'' he said.
The Cardinals tied it at 2 in the third on Carlos Beltran's RBI triple and Holliday's run-scoring double before Yadier Molina grounded into his second inning-ending double play against Greinke.
''He wasn't as sharp as he was the first time we faced him,'' Beltran said. ''But guys like that, the best guys in the game, they're able to regroup and find a way to help their team win.''
Los Angeles answered in the bottom of the third. Mark Ellis singled leading off, but was erased when Hanley Ramirez grounded into a double play.
Gonzalez followed with the Dodgers' first homer of the NLCS, slugging the ball an estimated 428 feet into the right-field pavilion for a 3-2 lead.
After wriggling out of big trouble in the first when Molina bounced into a double play, Greinke allowed two runs and six hits. He struck out four and walked one.
''He made his pitches, we made the plays, got out of it,'' Gonzalez said. ''We were able to get run support for him. All he needed was a few runs.''
Jansen gave up RBI singles to Matt Adams and Pete Kozma in the ninth.
Joe Kelly gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings. He struck out three and walked none.
''I made a few bad pitches on heaters and didn't locate that well, and they turned into home runs,'' he said. ''With guys on base, I was going after them and attacking them with the fastball, but they're good hitters and they put good swings on them and hit them out of the park.''
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