Greinke's home perfection defies explanation
MILWAUKEE -- It has become apparent that the Milwaukee Brewers cannot lose when Zack Greinke starts for them at home.
It has been a lock, a sure thing. It is as certain as next month is November. It is as certain as University of Wisconsin offensive linemen are extremely large fellows. It is as certain as when a guy plays quarterback for the Chicago Bears, there must something missing in his game.
It does not matter when the Greinke start is, only where. Milwaukee was 15-0 when he started for the club at Miller Park in the 2011 regular season. Greinke went 11-0 in those 15 starts.
But the Greinke/Miller Park winning combination now extends to the postseason. The Brewers won Greinke's start in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. And Sunday, with the stakes raised even further, Greinke and his team won Game 1 of the NL Championship Series over the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-6.
There is no question that in the vast majority of his home starts, Greinke has pitched well enough to win. But it turns out that Greinke doesn't even have to pitch particularly well for this formula to work.
On Sunday, he gave up six runs on eight hits in six-plus innings to the Cardinals. Didn't matter. His colleagues with the bats came up with all of the necessary big hits. A six-run fifth transformed a 5-2 deficit into an 8-5 lead. The usual hammers pounded. Ryan Braun, who had a two-run homer earlier, hit a two-run double. Prince Fielder followed with a two-run homer. On a less usual level, Yuniesky Betancourt also hit a two-run homer.
This victory made the Brewers 17-0 when Zack Greinke has started for them in 2011 at Miller Park. Why? How? They're very good. He's very good. But nobody's perfect. What's up?
"I don't know," Greinke said with a smile. "I answer that question after every start. And before every start."
"I can't explain it," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. "I don't know why that happens. Usually it's because he throws a good game and the run totals are down so much on their end.
"Today wasn't that case, and maybe one other game this year, where he gave up some runs and we still scored enough to win the ballgame. But you can't explain why that happens. Maybe there's a confidence factor a little bit to help us. We know when Zack goes out, we're going to win here. But I really don't think you can explain it."
When Fielder was asked this same question and was offered "talent" as one possible explanation, he smiled and responded: "We'll go with talent, I guess."
Fielder later added that the Greinke home-field edge was part of the larger home-field edge.
"I think when anyone pitches here, I think we feel good at home," he said. "I think it's just the home-field advantage that we feel good about. It doesn't matter who's pitching for us, I think at home we just have a lot of confidence."
Braun noted that Greinke had also improved on the road in the season's second half. As far as winning when Greinke did not pitch particularly well at home, Braun said: "That's one of the things you don't question, you just accept and hope it continues. We're obviously confident whenever he's on the hill. We're confident whenever Yo [Yovani Gallardo] is on the hill or any of our other starters, we feel like we're going to find a way to win. And again, that's one of the things you hope continues."
It has already continued in a remarkable way. Including a 4-0 home record in the postseason, the Brewers are 61-24 at Miller Park in 2011. The 17-0 record in Greinke's starts could be seen as simply the leading edge of that record. All right, maybe the extreme leading edge. Greinke has pitched well enough to win at home, and on those relatively rare occasions when he hasn't, his teammates have compensated with run production.
But there is one other, sometimes overlooked factor with the Milwaukee club that would allow Greinke and the Brew Crew to go 17-for-17. Since July 4, when the Brewers have had a lead after seven innings, they have never lost a game.
Game 1 of this NLCS in a way was saved twice. Closer John Axford got the official save, but setup man Takashi Saito preserved the victory in the seventh, entering as Greinke departed with one on and no outs. A well executed hit-and-run single by Jon Jay put runners on the corners, with Albert Pujols coming up as the tying run. But Saito got Pujols to ground into a double play, Milwaukee happily traded a run for two outs and St. Louis never threatened seriously again.
So there was a happy combination of factors at work for the Brewers -- power hitting that instantaneously transformed the game, clutch relief pitching and Zack Greinke pitching at home. Perhaps his Miller Park unbeaten record cannot be fully explained, but apparently it can be extended, even in the NLCS.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.