Zack Greinke is a different type of ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke knows the Astros give him a real World Series shot. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke's arrival immediately sky rocketed the Houston Astros' already lofty expectations. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke does not love the attention or hoopla that comes with it, but he knows how to pitch. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jim Crane (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeff Luhnow outmaneuvered other general managers to bring Zack Greinke to Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Aaron Sanchez set a high bar for new Houston Astros pitcher's debuts, throwing six no-hit innings. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa knows big swings. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
New reliever Joe Biagini is much more than just the Houston Astros' new resident comedian. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman will bring passion to the shortened season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is a pitcher's pitcher, a craftsman who does not rely on speed. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinle was under some pressure as the Houston Astros' big trade deadline acquisition. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yuli Gurriel always seems to come up big in the big moment. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke gives the Houston Astros a legit third ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke's addition pushed Houston Astros excitement to a whole new level. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
“You want to talk about Greinke — let me guess,” Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch cracks as he sits down in the dugout for his customary pregame media session.
Well, yes. It is Zack Greinke day at Minute Maid Park — the first of what the Astros are betting will be plenty of successful such days — and the buzz is real. And tangible. It turns what would have been a rather routine Tuesday night interleague game against the Colorado Rockies into a sellout with some believers paying premium playoff game prices to get in.
Seats in the 100 level along the base lines were going for $300 a ticket on StubHub. Greinke $100-plus jerseys are selling at a fine pace in the gift shops. The 43,234 that pack Minute Maid for this August Tuesday happen to make up the largest crowd the Astros have drawn all season, too.
Still don’t think the surprise trade for Greinke hasn’t brought things to a new level of Astros mania? One mammoth deadline move and one combined Saturday night no hitter later, Houston’s arguably even crazier for the Astros than it ever has been before.
Including even the World Series season.
This 11-6 destruction of the Colorado Rockies in Game No, 114, much of the damage done post Greinke, is just par for the show now.
The Astros have taken the next step from champions to phenomenon. They’re now the Golden State Warriors of baseball — and Zack Greinke is their Kevin Durant addition (first game hiccups aside) in some respects. This is the add that seems to have pushed everything even more over the top.
The hype and expectations have gone beyond overdrive now. Even people who hardly know anything about baseball want to be at Minute Maid now.
And why not?
It’s a nightly rollicking scene of Can You Top This!? Every game brings a new chance to see something you’ve never seen before, something that will have the city buzzing. Every date at Minute Maid Park suddenly seems like an event, opponent no matter.
The best thing about it is how the best team in baseball is embracing it all. These Astros want to be the center of attention. They know they’ve earned that status with their excellence.
Hinch completely dismisses a pregame question inquiring if he’s perhaps just interested in the hoopla of Greinke’s first Astros start being over.
“My goal for Greinke tonight is for him to be the winning pitcher and for him to throw extremely well,” Hinch says.
Everyone should know by now that these Astros grab the moment. They love the moment. They don’t run from it.
And there is Greinke, seemingly fitting right into baseball’s dream team early. He strikes out Rockies all-star Charlie Blackmon, who has only been hitting .370 since the all-star break, on three pitches to open the game. Four pitches into the game, he has thrown four strikes and recorded two outs.
It matters little that Yordan Alvarez’s absolute destruction of another baseball — the rookie smashes a towering home run into right field that rockets out with a blistering 112.5 MPH exit velocity — turns out to be the most impressive thing on this Minute Maid night. Or at least tied for the most impressive with the Yuli Gurriel’s two home run game. It turn out that the reborn Gurriel is just as hot in August as he was for all of July.
Sure, Greinke ultimately falters in his first game in that new No. 21 Astros uniform. He gives up two runs in the fourth inning, needs a neat Carlos Correa-Jose Altuve double play to get out of more trouble in the fifth. Then watches it all fall apart in the sixth when he gives up a soaring home run to Colorado’s No. 7 hitter Raimel Tapia on one of his usually effective slow curves.
Greinke leaves after six innings, having dropped the Astros into a 5-5 game. His two strikeouts match his low for any game this season. It’s hardly the intro any ace wants — even if it’s a third ace on a team packed with superstars.
But he’s playing for the Astros now and when Carlos Correa leads off the bottom of the sixth inning with a home run of his own, Greinke is still in line for a win. The Astros go on to score six runs in the sixth and seventh innings to gave that W to him with an emphatic power display.
“Look at one thru nine, it’s a power lineup all the way through,” says Correa, who drives in three runs with two extra base hits as the No. 6 hitter.
Hello, Zack Greinke. Welcome to baseball wonderland!
“It was a big crowd. My family had a good time,” Greinke says in the clubhouse afterwards. “A lot of train action today.”
It ends in a romp of an Astros win with Hinch’s team racking up 13 hits, more than half of them for extra bases (including four of those home runs that trigger the train). Greinke Night turns into Team Party Night, with everyone still in the ballpark standing for the final out.
Standing there answering questions after the game, wearing a simple gray T-shirt, orange shorts and flip flops with black socks, Greinke seems more quietly energized by his new reality than discouraged by the five runs he gives up. The new ace will note his “really, really bad fastball command” in game one as an Astro, but there doesn’t seem to be much anger or annoyance behind the declaration.
Zack Greinke is a different sort of dude — and that’s served him well.
“He was pretty much flat line emotion as you would imagine,” Hinch says of Greinke’s reaction in the dugout. “I love it.”
Zack Greinke Truths
Greinke joins an Astros staff with two of the game’s greatest flamethrowers in Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, but he comes as a craftsman. Greinke only ranks 30th in Major League Baseball in strikeouts coming into this night — and is sure to drop a little further down the list now. This is a thinking man’s ace with four to six different worthy pitches to utilize on any given night.
The 88 MPH changeup that Greinke strikes Rockies left fielder Ian Desmond out on to end the second inning is typical. It’s not about the speed. It’s about where Greinke throws it (low where Desmond cannot get it) and what he’s made the batter expect (something completely different).
“Great pitcher,” Correa says after having played behind Greinke for the first time. “He paints the corners.”
Zack Greinke is doing his thing in Houston, late struggles and all. Minute Maid is buzzing, World Series talk rumbles in the air-conditioned air. All is right with the most interesting team in baseball.