The Dodgers will be counting on Greinke to even the series after the Cards rallied for a stirring 10-9 victory in Game 1 on Friday.
"Yeah, I mean, it's the playoffs, so there's plenty of motivation," Greinke said on Friday. "But the Cardinals have knocked me out both of the times in the playoffs, so it's not any more motivation, but it's kind of tough losing to the same team twice."
Greinke did everything he could to forestall that elimination, facing the abyss in last year's Game 5 at home. The Dodgers were down 3-1 at the time in the best-of-seven NLCS. Greinke sent the series back to St. Louis with a 6-4 win as he pitched seven innings of two-run, six-hit ball that included a walk and four strikeouts, handing the ball back to Clayton Kershaw for Game 6 at Busch Stadium. The star left-hander lost, 9-0, and the Dodgers were eliminated as the Cards went on to be defeated by the Red Sox in the World Series.
Greinke remembers having a bit of good fortune in his two NLCS starts against the Cardinals last year. He also started Game 1 in St. Louis, leaving after eight innings with the score tied, 2-2, having allowed just the two earned runs on four hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts. The Dodgers lost the game, 3-2, in 13 innings.
With the Brewers, he was 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA against the Cards in two starts as St. Louis won the 2011 NLCS in six games as the preface to beating the Rangers in the World Series.
"My experience with them, I pitched pretty well," he recalled. "Some of the games I've done good, though they have hit the ball hard a lot and somehow I got outs. I don't really know how to explain it. It wasn't like I pitched badly, but I think I got a little lucky along those lines in some big situations with a ball being hit hard at someone. They really have a tough team all the way around and are real deep through their lineup."
Last year, the Dodgers used Kershaw to pitch Game 4 of their NLDS against the Braves on three days' rest. The Dodgers won and Kershaw wasn't involved in the decision. That left Greinke to anchor the starting rotation in the NLCS.
The Dodgers have that luxury because the double punch of Kershaw and Greinke is one of most powerful in Major League Baseball at this point, matching Detroit's Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and Washington's Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann for sheer power and productivity. And this year Kershaw and Greinke come into the postseason fresh.
"Zack obviously gives us that one-two punch," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We consider ourselves having two number ones when you have Zack. So he's really important."
Greinke has certainly been overshadowed this year by Kershaw's brilliant season, but his numbers were only a shade less superb. He was 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 32 starts, compared with Kershaw's Major League-leading 21-3 record, .875 winning percentage, 1.77 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 27 starts. The left-hander was second in the NL with 239 strikeouts, three behind Strasburg and Johnny Cueto of the Reds.
Asked if he felt lost in the commotion this season behind Kershaw, who is a candidate to become only the seventh pitcher in history to win a league MVP and Cy Young Award, Greinke looked bemused.
"I guess I haven't really thought about that," he said. "I don't know the level of attention I'm getting at the moment, so I don't have a good way to respond to that question."
One thing he does know is that he should benefit from his experience against the Cardinals in the playoffs. And now it's time to pay them back.
"The guys usually say experience in the playoffs is good, and after being in a couple times, I think that's true," Greinke said. "The first time you really don't know what to expect and the second time I felt a lot more comfortable out on the mound. The first time it's tough because you might just try a little too hard. The second time was easier, and hopefully this time will be even better."