LOS ANGELES — Zack Greinke had not even made it to his first opening day with the Los Angeles Dodgers and already his elbow was hurting.
The Los Angeles Angels exhaled. They never got too serious about bringing Greinke back last off-season, concerned in part that he would not stay healthy enough over a long-term contract to justify an investment well over $100 million.
They might be right. They might also be watching him in the World Series.
Greinke stared down the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, breathing life into the Dodgers any way he could. When the Cardinals threatened to topple the Dodgers in the first and third innings of an elimination game, Greinke sent them back to the visiting dugout muttering.
He sent the Cardinals back to St. Louis, and he made sure the Dodgers went with them. Greinke stopped the Cardinals on two runs over seven innings in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, earning the first postseason victory of his Dodgers career and extending the Dodgers’s season far enough for Clayton Kershaw to take the mound once more.
Greinke might be more comfortable pitching in a television studio, without the live audience. When the Dodgers introduced every player before the first home game of this series, Greinke was the one who declined to take the field, passing up the 100,000 hands that would have clapped for him. He would be delighted to refer every interview request to his catcher, A.J. Ellis.
So, as Ellis handled wave upon wave of reporters after Wednesday’s game, Greinke sat alone at his locker, a $147 million man dressed in the Magic Johnson T-shirt the Dodgers gave away to fans in May. He looked down at his smart phone and awaited his summons to an interview room, and to the dozens of reporters crammed inside.
“Ideally,” Grienke said, “there would be less people around.”
Greinke spent the first seven years of his career in Kansas City, then two years in Milwaukee and two months in Anaheim. He was the best available pitcher in free agency last off-season, but he battled social anxiety disorder early in his career, and some executives wondered whether he would shy away from a major market and from the spotlight that naturally would follow a nine-figure contract.
This has worked out perfectly. The Dodgers could afford the contract and, really, who needs to hound Greinke when you have Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez? Brian Wilson even showed up late this summer, to take over the eighth inning and hold court for the cameras too.
And, amazing as this might sound given the price tag, Greinke need not worry about the pressure of being the best pitcher on his team. Kershaw is.
“I don’t try to compete with him,” Greinke said, “because I don’t think it’s possible to.”
Greinke might not be the better pitcher, but he is the better athlete. He singled home one run and saved another by starting an inning-ending double play. And, in the first inning, with his team facing elimination and with the Cardinals loading the bases with none out, Greinke struck out Matt Adams and induced a double play from Yadier Molina.
“If they would have gotten the big hit right there, it would have been a crushing blow for morale,” Ellis said.
Greinke has one big problem right now. In the Dodgers’ fantasy football league, his team is in last place. That gave him motivation to pitch the Dodgers to victory and keep the baseball season alive, at least the way Ellis told it.
“If he didn’t, we’d all leave, and he wouldn’t have anybody to make trades with,” Ellis said.
In fantasy football. Greinke is something of a Trader Zack.
“He’d be a miserable baseball general manager,” Ellis said. “He’d be flipping players left and right. No free agent would ever sign with him.”
The Dodgers signed him to help get them to the World Series. That investment could be two victories away from paying off.