Culture / Sporting Life

Zack Greinke Only Builds His Unique Legend With Incredible Pitch Calling Trick — Here’s the Sign, Now Try and Hit It

The Real Reason Greinke Gave Away His Own Signs

BY // 08.13.20

Zack Greinke could make Howard Hughes look one dimensional. The Houston Astros’ lone remaining ace is The Most Interesting Man in Baseball and his anything but conventional legend is only growing. Greinke gave away his signs while pitching against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night — on purpose.

Yes, Greinke essentially let the Giants hitters know what was coming (sometimes) — and still got them out time and time again.

This is the kind of stuff that an instant Internet icon is made of. And before Greinke talked with reporters at Minute Maid Park in a postgame Zoom session, his calling his own pitch (letting everyone know what was coming) had indeed made him a trending topic on Twitter. Of course, like with most things with Zack Greinke, it turns out it’s a little more complicated than that.

“Sometimes I call the same pitch that I throw,” Greinke says, wearing a blue mask and blue latex gloves for the Zoom. “Most of the time it’s not the same pitch.”

Welcome to the scientific baseball experiments of Zack Greinke. Now hitters apparently must wonder if he’s telling them the truth when he calls his pitch. Or not.

Whether the Giants knew what was coming or not, they could not do much with Greinke’s offerings. Few have been able to lately. Greinke’s now given up three earned runs in his last 18 innings of work. His latest propelled a battered and shaken Astros team to a 5-1 Wednesday victory and a much needed series win over San Francisco. The normally dominant Astros are now 8-10 nearly a third of the way through this 60 game sprint of a season.

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Greinke forever won the hearts of most Astros fans with his World Series Game 7 performance against the Nationals last October. Now, he’s helping keep the shadow of the former champs afloat.

“That was a good one to win,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says after Greinke surrendered a run in the first two minutes of the game and then shut out the Giants for the next 6 and 1/3 innings.

Thanks to Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s supersized 16-team 2020 playoffs, the Astros are still very much in play at 8-10. Wonder slugger Yordan Alvarez could return as soon as this weekend. Greinke’s excellence in the face of assumed ace Justin Verlander and closer Roberto Osuna’s injuries has given the Astros a little time.

Not that Greinke worries about such things.

He is just trying to make himself more efficient. That’s the real motivation behind calling out his own pitches. He only does it when a runner is on second base — in an attempt to make sure the game isn’t slowed down to a crawl as he and catcher Martin Maldonado go through the signs in the traditional manner. Greinke does not like having to repeatedly shake off his catcher — and considers a mound visit to go over signs even worse.

He does not like the break between pitches of a few minutes — or even longer — that can result from going over signs in the usual manner. So Greinke does it his own way.

“Not really,” the 71-year-old Baker says when asked if he’s come across another baseball player quite like Greinke in his 50-plus years in the game. “I think they broke the mold on Greinke. You probably won’t see another Greinke in your lifetime or mine.”

One is a a gift.

The Word of Zack Greinke

Greinke sees the world — and baseball — a little differently. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve caught in my career,” Maldonado says.

He is also pitching like the ace the Astros probably did not have the right to expect from a 36-year-old who does not wow anyone with the speed of his fastball. Greinke’s extreme effort is easier to see — or more accurately hear — in these coronavirus times of empty ballparks. He loudly grunts with each pitch, a grunt so noticeable that it can be clearly heard on the second level where reporters sit — even with the pipped in ambient noise. It’s not a Monica Seles or Maria Sharapova level grunt, but it’s in the same ballpark.

No one should ever doubt Greinke’s determination to excel at baseball. He overcame anxiety issues early in his career to win a Cy Young Award. Now, with his velocity down significantly from his peak, he keeps making adjustments and tweaks, using his mind to try and discover any kind of edge. The latest attempt? Calling out his own pitches.

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)

Sorry, Internet sleuths, Greinke’s sign revealing has nothing to the Astros’ electronic sign stealing scandal of the past. It’s not a commentary on anything. He’s not gone Joe Kelly. It’s simply a craftsman tinkering with a possible solution to a “problem” that most pitchers do not even ever think about.

Even if Greinke admits that he occasionally might be inadvertently confusing Maldonado a little in the process, too. “Sometimes we’re not 100 percent sure that I’m throwing what he’s expecting,” he deadpans. (Then again, everything Greinke says is pretty deadpan.)

What Greinke says is also sometimes pointed. When Baker came out to remove him in the seventh inning against the Giants, one of the longer pitcher-manager ball handover exchanges you’ll ever see took place. It looked like Greinke might be arguing the case that he should stay in the game (which Astros fans may wish he had done with AJ Hinch in that Game 7).

“I think they broke the mold on Greinke. You probably won’t see another Greinke in your lifetime or mine.” — Dusty Baker

Instead, Greinke was just making a point.

“I said ‘OK, how you feel this time?’ ” Baker relays. “He goes ‘Well, I got a little bit left in the tank, but this lefty better get him out.’ And he kind of chuckled.”

Whether Greinke was really kidding or not, only Zack Greinke knows. That lefty (brand new Astro Brooks Raley) did get the Giants’ best hitter Mike Yastrzemski (Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson) out. Greinke’s first win of this rapidly speeding along season was secure. And in many ways, the Astros were steadied.

Baker admitted to the stress of this it’s-late-early season after Greinke calmed things down.

“Man, I didn’t sleep last night,” the manager says. “And I’ve had a number of sleepless nights. Very few people slept last night (after the Astros blew a 6-2 lead in the seventh inning to lose to the Giants 7-6). I told (pitching coach Brent) Stromy he looked like hell today. I said, ‘Hey, did you get any sleep?’ He said, ‘Well, I was in the bed.’ ”

Zack Greinke, Savior? Pitch Caller? Sign Revealer? Sleep Saver? They’re all just another role for The Most Interesting Man in Baseball. Some legends don’t follow anyone’s script but their own.

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