Culture / Sporting Life

Zack Greinke’s Touching Postgame Moment With His Kids Punctuates a Much Needed, Feel-Good Day For Astros

This 37-Year-Old Dad Pitches Like the Ace That Dusty Baker's Team Needs

BY // 05.31.21

It is a scene straight out of a baseball movie, a bow on a much needed, feel-good day for the Houston Astros. Zack Greinke is out on the field — in the outfield grass to be exact — with his wife Emily, playing with their two young boys. Greinke plays catch with 5-year-old Bode. Griffin Greinke, a few years younger, mostly rolls and runs in that lush green grass.

With sunlight streaming down onto the Greinke family (Minute Maid Park’s roof is opened after the game) and the green stands completely empty, it’s an idyllic picture to say the least.

Barely 25 minutes have passed since the final pitch of Astros’ 7-4 win over the best team in baseball. A win largely provided by the 37-year-old dad in the outfield. Greinke delivers the Astros from baseball hell — from being caught in Fernando Tatis Jr. home run deja vu — with eight crafty and gutty innings of one run work.

And then almost immediately goes back to being Bode and Griffin’s dad.

It’s a good reminder that the professional athletes many jeer, boo and hiss at — or in the case of some recent extreme NBA instances, dump popcorn on and spit on — are very human. They’re dads, husbands, sons, brothers. The first thing Zack Greinke wants to do after saving the Astros from allowing this series with the San Diego Padres to get truly ugly is play with his boys.

Greinke will take a break from the outfield play to do a postgame Zoom interview with reporters, most who are also in the stadium, but up in the press box. Then when the interview’s over, he’s right back there in the outfield with his family. They’ll head to the warning track where Greinke uses the wall as a backstop to softly toss some pitches to Bode, who swings away.

Zack Greinke gets paid a lot of money to play professional baseball ($35 million this season alone). But after showing he’s still money when the Astros need him most against the MLB leading 34-20 Padres, he’s right back to being Mr. Dad.

“This guy earns his money,” says Astros manager Dusty Baker, who may be the most relieved man in Houston. “He works hard. He pays attention. And he enjoys pitching. He’s a consummate team guy and he knows — I mean this guy’s been around, he knows what the team needs.

“He knew that we needed him to go deep in the game. That was his mindset all the time. But especially when you know your team’s in trouble. That’s what aces do. Aces come through at the right time.”

Zack Greinke, The Pitching Man

A lot of the stories written — and told — about Zack Greinke tend to focus on how idiosyncratic he is. And there are a lot of great Zack Greinke stories. From the deadpan delivery one liners he hits teammates with that leave them both chuckling and thinking. To time he “taught” Alex Gordon how to hit. To the few games last summer during the no-fans-in-stands coronavirus season when he’d yell out to batters which pitch he planned to throw before delivering it. That instant legend scenario may have been the best moments of the entire baseball semi bubble.

Fewer of the stories written — and told — about Zack Greinke focus on what an elite pitcher he’s been for well over a decade now. Greinke won his Cy Young Award in 2009. He’s been saving teams for a long time. That he is still doing it for this flawed, but proud Astros team in 2021 at age 37 says plenty about his resolve, fight and determination.

“Greinke did a great job pitching,” Kyle Tucker, one of the Astros’ young stars who happens to be 13 years the Astros ace’s junior, says.

Like a tinkering scientist — or a pitching MacGyver — Zack Greinke will find a way to keep his pitch count low enough so he can take care of 24 of the 27 outs his team needs

This is a workmanlike victory and eight innings for Greinke. Efficient, brisk and practically delivered. It’s about as flashy as that docks season of The Wire. And probably just as underrated.

Houston Astros vs. San Francisco Giants. Zack Greinke pitch at Minute Maid Parkes as Geroge Springer returns to the lineup. Jose Altuve given the day off
Zack Greinke has been pitching like the ace the Astros desperately need . (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Greinke keeps Tatis and the rest of the Padres’ big hitters (the also heating up Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer) largely off-balance, one confounding (and often slow) pitch at a time. He leaves with a six-run lead.

Just enough for the Astros’ gas-fire bullpen to hold on. Andre Scrubb gives up two home runs in the ninth — including a very loud, very high shot to former KBO star Ha-Seong Kim. But Scrubb still gets the three bullpen outs Baker’s team needs.

Because Greinke got the Astros 24. On 102 pitches.

“I knew I was going to have to throw all my pitches — all 100 pitches,” Greinke says. “Whether that’s five innings or seven innings, I was kind of just planning on it. Planning on just trying to do what I could.”

After showing he’s still money when the Astros need him most against the MLB leading 34-20 Padres, Zack Greinke’s right back to being Mr. Dad.

Greinke is doing a good job of keeping these now 28-24 Astros afloat as general manager James Click presumably works on getting some reinforcements. He’s now thrown 73 2/3 innings in the season’s first two months. Zack Wheeler of the Phillies and Aaron Civale of the Indians are the only two pitchers in the Major Leagues who’ve thrown more.

Zack Greinke’s thrown more innings than Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber so far. At age 37.

There are still many who’d prefer an ace with more electric, break bats type stuff. Especially for October when the best teams focus in and attack with precision. But Zack Greinke has been everything the Astros could have hoped for, the ace and losing streak stopper they’ve desperately relied on.

The Astros needed a day without any extra inning drama. They get it by jumping on Blake Snell, their pitching foe from the last year’s American League Championship Series. Before Snell can get two outs, the Astros put up four runs. It’s all punctuated by Kyle Tucker’s three-run shot into the Crawford Boxes, another big hit for a budding star who still sometimes seems to get overlooked and discounted.

All of Houston’s lineup absences (Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel are all out) have forced Dusty Baker to move Tucker up to the fifth spot in the batting order, right behind Carlos Correa — and on this Sunday, Tucker more than takes advantage of it.

Kyle Tucker Astros
Kyle Tucker has had plenty of big at-bats for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Given some early runs, Greinke does the rest. He is ruthlessly efficient when he most needs to be, inducing double play grounders to end the sixth and eighth innings. The first is triggered by a 87 MPH sinker that drops out the zone, only letting Hosmer pound it into the ground. The second is the result of a 85 MPH changeup that darts inside, tying Jurickson Profar up.

Like a tinkering scientist — or a pitching MacGyver — Zack Greinke will find a way to keep his pitch count low enough so he can take care of 24 of the 27 outs his team needs. Somehow. Someway. Some idea.

“Most stuff was pretty good,” Greinke says simply. “The command wasn’t like perfect with everything. But it was moving pretty good and the location was solid.”

He’s just a craftsman, discussing what he does. What he’s still better at than even most other frontline Major League pitchers. And when he’s done, Zack Greinke goes right back into the outfield and that plush grass and the blinding sunshine and plays some more with his boys.

An hour after the final pitch of this lifeboat worthy Astros win, Greinke the dad is still out there. Still playing.

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