NEW YORK -- What a couple of weeks in the life of Zack Greinke. He started the All-Star Game, outdueled Max Scherzer in a battle of aces in his first second-half start, flew back and forth across the country for the birth of his first child, ran his scoreless streak to 45 2/3 innings, and had to beat Jacob deGrom on Sunday at Citi Field in a matchup between the National League's ERA leaders.
So you can forgive him if the Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander wasn't quite the Greinke we've seen his past six outings, when he didn't allow a run and had walked just four batters while surrendering a meager .129 batting average and only three extra-base hits. His usual pinpoint control was a little off; he hit two batters, walked three (one intentionally) and had his third-lowest strike percentage of the season. Luck also wasn't quite on his side in the Dodgers' 3-2 loss to the New York Mets.
Hey, breaking records isn't easy.
Greinke's streak ended in the third inning, thanks to a hit batter, bloop single, outfield error, and fielder's choice ground ball as Kirk Nieuwenhuis beat Adrian Gonzalez's throw and Yasmani Grandal's swipe tag. The Mets would score another run off him in the sixth inning -- on their way to the eventual win in 10 innings -- when Greinke hit Michael Conforto with the bases loaded with two outs. Did the Mets hit the ball hard off him? No. But the streak is over, maybe to the relief of the media-shy Greinke, who joked after the game and drew a laugh from reporters when he said, "Now I won't have to talk to you guys about it."
Greinke said the disruption to his schedule wasn't an issue. He had flown back to Los Angeles on Thursday -- his wife, Emily, gave birth to Bode Nicholas, the couple's first child -- and then he flew back to New York. "It wasn't as distracting as you'd think," he said. "I felt strong today. Started off pretty good, but the second and third time through wasn't as good."
He's a man of many pitches but few words. He said the fastball to Nieuwenhuis wasn't that bad but Nieuenhuis was up on the plate. With Conforto, he didn't want to throw the same pitch as the previous one but just pulled another fastball, hitting him on the elbow.
All along, Greinke had said luck was a factor in something like this. And maybe rules changes as well. Grandal insisted that under the old rules where the catcher could set up permanent residence in front of home plate, Nieuwenhuis doesn't score. "No way he's getting to the plate," he said.
Joc Pederson, whose bobble in center field allowed Nieuwenhuis to advance to third with no outs, was despondent after the game. "I missed it. It went under my glove and it cost the streak for Zack," the rookie said.
As Greinke's scoreless innings had piled up, comparisons were made to Greg Maddux. I can see why: Neither is a big, physical guy like so many pitchers you see today -- Greinke is listed at 6 feet tall, 195 pounds. Like Maddux, Greinke has great control and command, which he's taken to a new level this season. Neither had or has an overpowering fastball. True, back in the day, Greinke did throw 95-plus with regularity; when he won his Cy Young Award with the Royals in 2009, he averaged 93.6 mph on his fastball and touched 98. But age and innings have taken some of the zip away, and in 2015 he's averaged 91.4 mph with his fastball, about the major league average.
Like Maddux, however, he's become one of the supreme thinkers out on the mound. Still, Greinke's approach is much different. Maddux's fastball had terrific late movement, tailing and diving away from left-handed batters. He pounded low in the strike zone, and while he also had a circle change, cutter and slider, in his heyday he threw that fastball about 70 percent of the time, according to literature from that era. Even if that percentage is a little high -- few starters outside of Bartolo Colon rely so exclusively on a fastball -- it's a different style than Greinke, who throws five quality pitches: Four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball, slider and changeup.
Another difference is that Greinke throws his fastball up in the zone, relying on late movement and precise location to induce weak contact. But we can look at two heat maps to see Greinke's command was a little off on Sunday. The Mets stacked the lineup with six left-handed batters. Check out Greinke's fastball location versus lefties on the season and on Sunday:
Greinke usually pounds that outside corner to both righties and lefties with all his pitches. His percentage of pitches to the outer third of the strike zone entering the game was 64.4 percent, highest in the majors, but he wasn't hitting that spot as consistently in this game.
After the first run scored, Grandal went out to the mound and told Greinke, "We had a good run. Let's start another one."
For now, Orel Hershiser's record of 59 consecutive scoreless innings stands. "I think everyone appreciated that," Greinke said. "Five years ago, I would have said that record and [Joe] DiMaggio's record were the hardest to beat. But maybe it will get broken. People are getting close."
Indeed. In fact, don't look now, but Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw is riding a 29-inning scoreless streak. We may be back here in a couple of weeks. And Greinke will happily let Kershaw do the talking.