ST. LOUIS — The Los Angeles Dodgers had 99 problems Friday night/Saturday morning in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, but the starting pitcher ain't one. Donald Zachary Greinke came through with the best postseason performance of his career, and by a mile, no matter that the St. Louis Cardinals won 3-2 in 13 innings.
Greinke struck out 10 over eight innings, allowing two runs, four hits and a walk. If not for Cards pitcher Joe Kelly running into a two-out single in the third, and outfielder Andre Ethier failing to come up with Carlos Beltran's two-run double that followed, Greinke's line would have been even closer to spotless.
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said Greinke could not have performed any better.
"That was maybe the best game that I've ever caught in my life back there, as far as what I was receiving from him," Ellis said. "He was in complete command on everything. He had both sides of the plate working, and that was the best curveball's probably been all season long. For me personally, that's what hurts the most about walking out without a win."
Greinke described his performance as "good," but faulted himself for not getting out of the third inning unscathed. The Dodgers scored twice in the top of the third, and Greinke retired the Cardinals first two batters in the bottom half before trouble arose. Kelly's hit came in a 2-1 fastball, and Greinke walked Matt Carpenter after getting ahead 1-2. Beltran's double nearly cleared the fence, but Ethier nearly caught it.
"I should have finished that inning before they scored any runs," Greinke said, but he retired 15 of 17 batters after Beltran's double before Dodgers manager Don Mattingly went to the bullpen for the ninth inning.
Greinke's 10 strikeouts were historic from a Cardinals perspective; no pitcher had fanned them that many times since Denny Galehouse of the St. Louis Browns did it in Game 5 of the 1944 World Series. That's one of the reasons it took 4 hours, 47 minutes for someone to win, Cardinals slugger Matt Carpenter said:
"That's why the game lasted as long as it did -- great starting pitching," Carpenter said. "Greinke did a great job."
The rest of the team couldn't say that, from Dodgers batters who went 1 for 10 collectively with runners in scoring position, to Mattingly, who made several questionable tactical choices that didn't work.
Greinke came into these playoffs with a 6.48 ERA in three postseason starts, all with the Brewers in 2011. But he did well in the division series round against the Braves, allowing two runs and four hits over six innings in the Dodgers 4-3 loss in Game 2. Against the Cardinals, he pitched well enough to win again.
It's likely the Dodgers will need a similar performance to Greinke's in order to win Game 2 on Saturday, when left-hander Clayton Kershaw and Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha tangle.