A former Royals teammate was rude right back. Royals left fielder Alex Gordon touched Greinke for a leadoff home run, saved a Brewers run with a strong throw home in the seventh and then scored the winner in the eighth on Billy Butler's hit, giving the Royals a 2-1 win in the opener of an Interleague series at Kauffman Stadium.
Gordon's first-inning blast represented the only damage against Greinke, who scattered five other hits and no more runs in seven innings. He did not walk a batter, struck out eight and was finished for the night when reliever Francisco Rodriguez surrendered Gordon's rally-sparking double over left fielder Ryan Braun's head in the eighth inning, and Butler's go-ahead single.
"You knew Zack was going to be Zack," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You knew he was going to be tough coming back."
Actually, the night nearly belonged to Greinke's foil, Royals starter Luis Mendoza, a right-hander who has yo-yoed between the Royals' rotation and bullpen and, for six innings on Tuesday night, did not allow a single Brewers hit. Braun broke up that bid with an infield single in the seventh.
The Brewers had seen this sort of stuff from Mendoza before, albeit in Spring Training. On March 16 at Surprise Stadium, the Royals' spring home, he struck out seven batters in 4 2/3 innings and limited a Brewers split squad to one run. The Brewers didn't have a hit until Aramis Ramirez led off the fifth with a single.
But this Mendoza on Tuesday was not that
Mendoza, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. This one, the Brewers should have been able to hit.
"We didn't swing the bats," Roenicke said.
Braun wound up on third base on his infield hit courtesy of two throwing errors on the play, and when Mendoza followed by walking Ramirez, he was suddenly out of the game at 74 pitches.
With Aaron Crow on to pitch, Braun was erased at the plate on a strong throw by Gordon, who completed a double-play after catching Taylor Green's fly ball to left field. But Ramirez moved to second on the throw home, and he managed to score, bad left leg and all, when Rickie Weeks dropped a soft single into left-center.
The Brewers stranded a runner at third base in the eighth inning against Greg Holland and again in the ninth against Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, who logged his 15th save. The Brewers had speedster Carlos Gomez at third base with one out in the ninth, but pinch-hitter George Kottaras struck out and another pinch-hitter, Brooks Conrad, fell to 3-for-38 in the Majors this season with a game-ending grounder.
The Brewers fell to 28-33, 5 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Reds.
Yet Greinke still believes his new team has enough pieces left to get into the race.
"If you watched us today, I wouldn't say so," he said. "But a lot of days, yeah, our team is definitely good enough, and the people who have been filling in for injuries have done more than enough. We have to be more consistent."
Greinke was back in the spotlight after the game, peppered with questions about his quality start, his new life in Milwaukee, his old one in Kansas City and the uncertain days ahead, as Greinke inches closer and closer to free agency.
It was Greinke's first trip back to his former home and another opportunity to explain why he nudged the Royals to trade him in December 2010. He vetoed a deal that would have sent him to Washington before accepting a trip to Milwaukee, with the Brewers offering four top prospects in return.
"I didn't want to have to be the bad guy, but I felt I had to be," Greinke said. "I liked it here. The fans were great. I don't know how so many of them come to the games when [the Royals] have been bad for so long, but it's pretty impressive."
Does he regret the circumstances of his departure?
"Maybe," Greinke said.
He said he has an open mind about signing back with Kansas City in free agency. Ditto for Milwaukee. He has not ruled out any teams, including those in big markets, where the spotlight would be brighter.
"We'll see," Greinke said. "I still like Milwaukee, it could still be with them."
He might make another Kansas City homecoming. The All-Star Game is July 13 at Kauffman Stadium, and Greinke's 2.96 ERA makes him a contender.
"It's hard to make it as a starter," Greinke said. "You have to be a reliever to make the All-Star team, it seems like nowadays. There's a while to go. It's happened a couple of times, where you're doing good and then I've done real bad right before the All-Star Game and ruined my chances. I just have to stay focused."