The mastery and mystery of Zack Greinke

October 10, 2015, 10:37 AM

— -- On the afternoon of Aug. 6, Zack Greinke of the Dodgers flailed his arms in disgust and squatted in the middle of the diamond at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. As he berated himself for throwing away an easy tapper by the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the first, he looked less like one of the best pitchers in the world and more like a long-haired Little Leaguer who was upset with himself for letting his team down.

Somewhat flustered, Greinke gave up a single, a walk, a single and then a three-run homer to Domonic Brown. His first-place Dodgers now trailed the hapless Phillies 5-3 with no outs, and the crowd of 27,839, as well as the occupants in both dugouts, looked on in shock as pitching coach Rick Honeycutt went out to the mound to find out what this impostor had done with the guy who had recently tied a major league record with six consecutive scoreless starts.

A veteran scout sitting behind home plate exchanged quizzical looks with his colleagues and said, "Watch, he'll get out of this."

The pitching coach in the other dugout, Bob McClure, had no doubt that he would. Five runs in, no outs, bottom of the first -- that's nothing compared to the spot McClure saw Donald Zackary Greinke try to get out of nine years before. That time, there was much more than a game on the line.

On this afternoon, Greinke took a deep breath and proceeded to retire the next three batters, the last two by strikeouts. He led off the top of the second with a single off David Buchanan and scored on a three-run homer by Adrian Gonzalez that put the Dodgers back in front, 6-5. With two outs in the top of the third, he lined the first pitch from Buchanan over the fence in left-center to give himself a 7-5 lead. Then, in the top of the sixth, he singled off a reliever to start a three-run rally.

On the mound, he settled down and kept the Phillies at bay with his extensive repertoire -- two-seamers, four-seamers, curves, sliders, changeups -- and intensive control. By the time he left the game after six innings, the Dodgers were ahead 10-6, and they went on to win 10-8. Greinke had given up seven hits, but he had gotten three.

Afterward, in one of his delightfully taciturn postgame news conferences, Greinke said, "I was mad after that first inning and motivated to get some hits. Normally, you just focus on your pitching, but we were down by some runs, so I needed to put good at-bats out there."

When asked about his high school aspirations of being a major league shortstop, he said he'd seen the old videos, and "My confidence then was good enough to make the majors, but my swing wasn't as good as I remembered."

While his eyes seemed to be searching for anything but another set of eyes, there was a hint of a smile on Greinke's face.

Over in the other clubhouse, McClure was not pleased that his team had just lost and that his pitchers had been hammered. But part of him was inwardly happy for Zack and the season he was having.

Once upon a time, you see, McClure was the pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. He was there on the day that Greinke quit baseball.