LOS ANGELES -- Adrian Gonzalez smacked a three-run homer in the fifth inning of Saturday's 7-4 win for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the visiting New York Mets, and tied a season high with five RBIs. Defensively, he ended the fifth inning with a brilliant scoop of Dee Gordon's throw, stretching every bit of his 6-foot-2 frame up the first-base line, completing a double play and saving a run. Gonzalez was without question the star of the game.
The focus of it, however, was on the mound.
That's where Zack Greinke, his regular starting slot pushed back from Thursday because of discomfort in his pitching elbow, was back at work. On a Dodgers team built around starting pitching -- where the offense has generally looked better on paper than in practice -- Greinke is arguably L.A.'s second-most important player. It's difficult to imagine them doing significant damage in the postseason without their All-Star righty strongly backing MVP candidate Clayton Kershaw.
Understanding that, fans can be forgiven for getting a little antsy hearing "sore" and "elbow" used in the same sentence in reference to Greinke, even if an MRI exam has shown no structural damage. Even if Greinke says, in the grand scheme of things, he's fine.
"You guys aren't going to believe me, because I got pushed back a couple of days, but it really hasn't bothered me when the game's been on the line," Greinke said after throwing seven innings and 105 pitches Saturday, giving up four runs (three earned) and nine hits. "It doesn't affect any of my pitches, so it really isn't a big issue."
He's right -- the questions aren't going to stop, even though manager Don Mattingly says Greinke, unlike many other players, can be trusted to tell the truth about his physical state at any given moment.
"He's really honest," Mattingly said before the game. "He'll let you know."
Saturday, all the feedback was positive. "I checked on him after the sixth," Mattingly said. "'How you feeling?' And he says, 'Perfect.'"
The evidence backed the answer, too.
"You see the ball coming out of his hand, you see his pitches [are] the same, you see him locating, and it just makes you feel like if you don't know, if you don't get all the little inside information, you don't think anything's wrong with this guy," Mattingly said.
Greinke's situation, while more nerve-racking, is less complicated than, say, Josh Beckett's. He tried to pitch through a hip problem everyone could see in pictures before landing once again on the disabled list.
"This is kind of the opposite. We got the MRI, and nothing has changed," Mattingly said of Greinke's elbow. "You feel confident there's nothing structurally wrong with it, other than maybe a little bit of wear and tear from the season."
Greinke was as upbeat about his work Saturday as his health, happy with his slider -- including the four he used to strike out David Wright with two men on to end New York's half of the seventh -- and his fastball. Even the changeup deposited over the left-field wall by Mets center fielder Juan Lagares wasn't a pitch Greinke wanted back all that badly. The pitch did tail from the outer half in toward Lagares, but was down and falling out of the strike zone.
"Looking back on it, he's had trouble with changeups over his career, but it's strange. When you throw him a good changeup, he hits it. If you throw a bad changeup, he's gotten out," Greinke said. "Right where I threw it, he's had some success in that spot. In those situations, you're like, 'Do you really want to throw a hanging changeup?' Usually you want to throw a quality one."
Mattingly says the way Greinke's elbow reacts overnight and into next week means more than how he felt Saturday. His determination to temper any enthusiasm following Saturday's game was clear, whether worried about raising expectations when he's not 100 percent certain of Greinke's health or concerned he might just jinx the whole thing. (Baseball remaining pre-modern in many ways, including superstitions.)
Asked about his manager's wait-and-see stance, Greinke shrugged.
"I saw that's what he said," Greinke said. "I think I'm fine. I'm pretty confident I'll be fine tomorrow."
If he's right, the Dodgers will surely feel fine tomorrow, too. And confident down the stretch, and into October.