KC Royals: Can former Royal save Houston tonight?

(Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports) /
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The situation facing the Houston Astros and scheduled starter and former KC Royals star Zack Greinke tonight is dangerous, but not unfamiliar or insurmountable. After Atlanta’s 2-0 victory in Game 3 of the World Series Friday night, a contest in which the Astros couldn’t scratch out a hit until the eighth inning, the American League champs are one defeat away from going down 3-1 in this Fall Classic and playing a Sunday elimination game on the road.

The Astros were in this same unenviable position 11 days ago. Coming off a 12-3 battering at Boston’s hands just the night before, another loss would have marked their third in the ALCS and put them on the brink of elimination in the next game at Fenway Park. But Houston won three in a row, including two at Fenway, to win their berth in the Series.

This, though, is the World Series, the game’s toughest test and biggest stage, and Atlanta has the talent to send Houston packing. Can Greinke, a Cy Young winner with the Royals in 2009, save the Astros tonight? “Save” is, of course, a strong word some might think exaggerates the importance of Greinke’s task, but the setting and stakes suggest otherwise, and asking whether the 38-year old righthander can rescue his club is legitimate.

Former KC Royals starter Zack Greinke has his work cut out for him in Game 4.

Greinke, who won 60 games in seven seasons with Kansas City, is no stranger to pressure. When he throws his first pitch tonight, he’ll have appeared in 17 postseason series and started 20 playoff games. His career 219 victories and 3.41 ERA render him an arguable, if not genuine, Hall of Fame candidate, a status unattainable by pitchers who can’t handle high-leverage situations.

His recent performance is, however, less than inspiring.

Greinke, who’ll be a free agent when this Series ends (might the Royals reunite with him?), went 11-6, 4.16 for Houston this season, but was essentially unavailable down the stretch when, beginning Aug. 31, two trips to the Injured List cost him over three weeks. He pitched only three times in September, giving up 14 earned runs in 11.1 innings, and earned his final win of the campaign Aug. 13.

Of more, or at least equal, concern, is how Greinke last pitched. The situation then was what it is now—Houston, after suffering its second loss in three games of the ALCS, faced a crucial road game against Boston. Manager Dusty Baker called on Greinke for the first time in this year’s playoffs, but the ex-KC Royals ace couldn’t muster much. He gave the Sox two runs and walked three in 1.1 innings, and hasn’t appeared in this postseason since. (Despite Greinke’s troubled short stint, the Astros exploded at the plate and won 9-2 to even the ALCS).

So it is that Greinke goes to the mound tonight surrounded by doubt. He’ll be on a short leash and needs to be sharp from the start—with so much on the line, Baker, a wise and savvy skipper, won’t hesitate to pull him early.

Will Greinke be up to the task? We’ll know in a few hours.

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The first pitch of Game 4 of the World Series is set for 8:09 p.m. ET tonight.

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