All these years and multiple teams later, Zack Greinke just keeps dealing and frustrating opposing lineups.
On Saturday night, the former Royals ace and current member of the embarrassingly-stacked Houston Astros pitching rotation made his first start in Kansas City since 2017.
Greinke earned his first win as pitcher for the visiting club against the Royals as the Royals dropped the second game of the three-game set by a score of 6-1 in front of an announced 20,716 at Kauffman Stadium. The loss also snapped a string of four consecutive series won by the Royals, their longest streak since June 2017.
The Astros (97-53) remain in the chase for the best record in the majors, and they’ll try to sweep the series on Sunday afternoon.
Whit Merrifield led the meager offense for the Royals (55-94). Merrifield, the major-league hits leader, had two doubles and drove in their only run of the night. Alex Gordon also had two hits, while Nicky Lopez had a hit and scored a run.
“My first time ever facing him,” Lopez said of Greinke. “He’s a deceiving pitcher. He can throw his fastball wherever he wants. He throws his change-up whenever. He threw anything whenever. He kept us off-balance a little bit. He’s been doing it a long time, and I think that’s because he throws many pitches for strikes and he’s very deceiving.”
Greinke entered the night 0-2 in four starts as an opposing starter at Kauffman Stadium despite a respectable 3.24 ERA in those outings.
Saturday, he held his former club to one run on six hits and no walks over six innings, and he struck out seven.
Astros manager AJ Hinch said before the series that Greinke brought up the fact that he hadn’t won as a visitor in Kauffman, but after getting that notch in his belt, Greinke simply described it as “nice.”
The win against the Royals gives Greinke at least one victory against all 30 MLB teams.
Greinke, a former first-round draft pick of the Royals (sixth overall in 2002), spent the first seven years of his major-league career with the Royals after having come up through their farm system. He won the 2009 American League Cy Young Award and was an AL All-Star that same season for the Royals.
The Royals traded Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers in the winter of 2010 in the deal that brought Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi to the Royals. Since leaving the Royals, Greinke has earned five more All-Star accolades and has played for the Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Astros.
Royals starting pitcher Mike Montgomery (3-9) on Saturday allowed two runs on five hits and five walks in five innings, plus four batters in the sixth.
“He battled with his command,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Montgomery. “That’s a really good-hitting club. They like to get extended. Left-handers, as we saw last night with Duffy, they have success with pounding guys in. But the five walks. He was trying not to make mistakes but pitch to his strength and their weaknesses.”
Home-plate umpire Chris Guccione ejected Royals bench coach Dale Sveum in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes following a walk by Montgomery.
The Royals scored on an RBI double by Merrifield in the third inning that scored Lopez. Guccione initially called Lopez out at the plate on a bang-bang play. Upon replay review, the umpires ruled Lopez safe.
Merrifield advanced to third on the throw home, but Greinke retired the next three batters in order to end the inning.
Alex Bregman’s 36th home run of the season tied the game 1-1 in the top half of the fourth inning.
The Astros pulled ahead in the sixth, the final inning for Montgomery. Montgomery allowed the first three batters of the inning to reach base, including an RBI single by Kyle Tucker with two men on base.
Robinson Chirinos then hit a tailor-made double-play ball fielded by Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop, but Lopez didn’t catch the throw from Mondesi, which left the bases loaded with no outs.
Royals left-handed reliever Tim Hill came in with the bases loaded and retired the next three batters on a strikeout, a pop-up and a fly ball to the outfield. Hill has not allowed a hit in his last six appearances (4 2/3 innings). He’s walked just one batter during that span and has struck out seven.
“I think just mixing in the slider more has helped me out,” Hill said. “You want to still respect the hitters, but in certain counts where they’re expecting the fastball I can throw the slider now. That’s helped.”
The Astros added three runs in the eighth on a Yordan Alvarez home run, and Chirinos added an RBI single in the ninth.
The Royals conclude the series and the three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon. Right-hander Jakob Junis (9-13, 5.06 ERA) will start for the Royals opposite Astros left-hander Wade Miley (13-5, 3.74).
Champions: The Wilmington Blue Rocks won the Carolina League (High-A) championship with a 2-0 victory over Fayetteville on Saturday night. They became the third Royals affiliate to win a league championship this season, having joined the Lexington Legends (Low-A) and the Royals Dominican Summer League club.