LOS ANGELES -- Zack Greinke was not sharp, which meant all was probably lost for the Dodgers. By the middle of the third inning Wednesday, Greinke had given up two runs, allowed six hits and recorded only seven outs. Two Cardinals were on base with perennial MVP candidate Yadier Molina at the plate. One more mistake meant almost-certain doom.
Then something unexpected, if not downright remarkable happened in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series: Greinke induced Molina to hit into his second double play of the game, sparking a run of 13 consecutive Cardinals outs to end his day. Dangerously flawed early in the game, Greinke transformed into a perfect pitcher in the middle stages of a 6-4 Dodgers victory that sent the series back to St. Louis.
If the Dodgers felt comfortable putting their season in the hands of a former Cy Young Award winner Wednesday, their optimism waned in the opening moments of the game. In the top of the first inning, Greinke looked nothing like the pitcher who ranked fourth in the NL with a 2.63 ERA this season, nor the one who fired eight strong innings in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Instead, he more closely resembled the pitcher who struggled in his first playoff experience two years ago with the Brewers, loading the bases on two hits and a walk. It was not until Matt Adams swung at multiple pitches outside the strike zone that Greinke recovered, capitalizing on that favor by inducing Molina's first double-play ball.
"I think that would give any pitcher momentum, getting out of a big jam like that," Adams said. "But we kept battling throughout the game. We never gave up."
As Adams noted, Greinke's recovery did not last long. Following a perfect second inning, the Dodgers starter allowed four consecutive one-out knocks in the third, including run-scoring extra-base hits from Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.
Then came Molina's second double play, 13 consecutive outs and a plane ticket back to Missouri.
"He made pitches when he had to," Molina said. "I didn't swing at strikes."
"He wasn't as sharp as he was the first time we faced him," Beltran added. "But still guys like that are able to regroup and find a way to give their team an opportunity to win ballgames."
Greinke did, giving the Dodgers serious life in their quest to come back from a 3-1 series deficit -- all while rewriting his personal October profile. Coming into October with a questionable big-game reputation, including a trio of playoff clunkers with the Brewers in 2011, Greinke has posted a 2.40 ERA over two NLCS starts this autumn. In 15 innings, he has struck out 14 Cardinals and walked two, even adding an RBI single off Joe Kelly in the second inning of Game 5.
Though there is a chance he could appear in Games 6 or 7 in emergency relief, Greinke is likely done for the NLCS now, his contributions complete.
If so, regardless of whether the Dodgers make the World Series, they owe him a good deal of thanks.
Game 5 could have escaped them early. With two double-play balls, Greinke made sure it didn't.
"Zack was able to rally," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "For him to limit them to zero runs in the first and then keep the score tied in the third kept us right where we need to be with momentum."