By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — On just seven pitches, Zack Greinke had two outs. Dusty Baker may have even breathed a slight sigh of relief.
With Houston’s starting pitchers failing to even begin to go deep in any of the previous three games this series, the 72-year-old Astros manager entered Tuesday night’s Game 4 hoping to ride the 37-year-old Greinke for as long as the right-hander could go.
The early returns were positive, but then things got rough. And after recording just one out in the second inning, Greinke’s night was over. The Astros trailed by a run.
In the first inning, after getting Kyle Schwarber to fly out and getting Kiké Hernandez to ground out to short, Greinke threw a first-pitch strike to Rafael Devers but proceeded to throw four consecutive balls.
After the walk, Xander Bogaerts stepped up and took a ball away. After a Greinke pickoff attempt, the right-hander delivered a pitch home. Bogaerts turned on the breaking ball that split the plate, sending it high and deep to left field, clearing everything. When it came down, the Red Sox had a 2-1 lead.
XANDER INTO THE BOSTON NIGHT! pic.twitter.com/ChJu45cOOM
— Red Sox (@RedSox) October 20, 2021
After that, Greinke didn’t get any help from his defense, as Alex Bregman misplayed a ball off the bat of Alex Verdugo, allowing the Sox’ No. 5 hitter to reach base. J.D. Martinez then worked a walk on seven pitches, before Hunter Renfroe grounded out sharply — with a 110.7 mph grounder down the line — to end the inning, thanks to a solid makeup play by Bregman at third base.
Greinke needed 28 pitches to get through that first inning, and when he came out to warm up for the bottom of the second inning, reliever Brooks Raley simultaneously began to loosen in the bullpen.
Greinke walked Christian Vazquez to start the second, losing the Sox’ catcher after getting ahead 1-2. Greinke did retire Christian Vazquez on some weak contact to first base. But with the pitch count at 37, Baker made the move to pull Greinke, who hadn’t thrown more than 28 pitches in an outing since Sept. 19.
Greinke’s inherited runner didn’t score, ending his night with a line of 1.1 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 2 R, 2 ER.
That continued a troubling trend for Houston starters in this series. Framver Valdez allowed three runs (two earned) over 2.2 innings in Game 1. Luis Garcia allowed five runs in 1-plus inning in Game 2. Jose Urquidy lasted just 1.2 innings in Game 3, allowing six runs (five earned).
Taken together, the quartet of Astros starters pitched just 6.2 innings in Games 1-4, allowing 16 runs (14 earned).
After Monday’s Game 3 loss, an exasperated Baker spoke of how challenging it’s been to manage his bullpen in this series.
“It’s kind of like Groundhog Day, a recurring nightmare where you hope to get some innings out of these guys,” Baker said. “You hope they can get out of the inning and then take him as far as you can take him.”
Regarding Greinke, who hasn’t been himself since going on the COVID list in September, Baker wasn’t hoping for five or six innings. But he certainly hoped to get more than the four outs he got from the starter, ensuring another long and taxing night of work for the Houston bullpen.