That Greinke stands in the Dodgers’ path to a second straight appearance in the National League championship series is a story line with a nice Hollywood twist. The last time Greinke appeared in the postseason, he was a Dodger, losing in Game 5 of a 2015 division series against the Mets. Six of his teammates in that game also graced the Los Angeles starting lineup in the first two games of this series.
After the 2015 season, Greinke, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2009, opted out of the final three years of his Dodgers contract to sign with the Diamondbacks. He was lured to Arizona by a six-year, $206.5 million deal — which is one of the most lucrative in baseball and also has the highest annual value of any contract in the sport.
In dashing toward that canopy of cash, Greinke, intentionally or not, was also moving away from the human sun shade that is Clayton Kershaw. As teammates they were good friends, but Greinke was always going to be known as the other Cy Young winner in that rotation.
In 2006, Greinke had considered retiring from baseball after he was found to have social anxiety disorder and depression. He didn’t retire, a lot of success followed — including four All-Star Game appearances — and now in the Valley of the Sun he has added to his accomplishments, although without the glare of Los Angeles (consider that three of his home wins this season, including one on Aug. 31 against the Dodgers, were in front of crowds of fewer than 20,000).
The local fans didn’t turn Greinke into a public piñata in 2016 when a torn left oblique muscle limited him to 26 games, even though as Greinke went, so went the Diamondbacks. They finished with 93 losses that season, a pretty poor initial return on the franchise’s $34-million-a-year investment in their ace.
This year, a healthy Greinke went 17-7 with a 3.20 E.R.A., and the Diamondbacks flipped their 2016 record, winning 93 games.
Against the Dodgers, Greinke was 1-2 this season with a 3.65 earned run average. But in his last two starts against his former team, he was credited with the win after pitching six innings in an 8-1 victory, and then he absorbed a no-decision during a seven-inning outing in an eventual 3-1 Arizona victory.
This is Greinke’s fifth division series, and he also has been in the N.L.C.S. twice. All of that experience could act as a calming influence on teammates like Jimmie Sherfy, who allowed three runs without recording an out on Saturday, or Ketel Marte, who made a fielding error that led to an unearned run.
The Diamondbacks’ lineup has provided little support as well, stranding too many base runners and lacking any hitters as footloose and fret-free as the Dodgers’ tongue-flapping, bat-flipping Yasiel Puig.
Like Roger Federer when he is serving, Greinke has a delivery that does not telegraph the type or location of his pitches, which is why he is one of the best at baiting hitters into swinging at balls outside the strike zone. On Monday he will go up against a disciplined Dodger team that is collectively disinclined to chase pitches outside the strike zone. Something will have to give.
At the start of the season, Greinke’s meticulous preparation earned him the nickname Casper, because, as his teammates explained to Fox Sports Arizona’s Diamondbacks broadcasting crew, he is prone to disappearing into some back room to study opponents’ hitting tendencies.
On Saturday, Greinke declined to talk about his upcoming start. He said he would save all questions for his scheduled news conference during the Diamondbacks’ practice on Sunday in Phoenix. But before his wild-card start, he explained his approach to must-win games.
“I just focus on what you do getting ready and do your normal scouting report and just try to make good pitches,” he said. “And hopefully, the results work out good, but you can’t guarantee that.”
No, but he will be on the mound in Game 3, trying to invigorate this series before it is too late.