Joe Posnanski
Thursday April 29th, 2010

On Aug. 16, 2008, the Kansas City Royals were out of things, of course, it being August and all. But that day they went to Yankee Stadium. And that day a 24-year-old pitcher named Zack Greinke pitched 6 2/3 innings against a lineup that had three certain Hall of Famers (Jeter, A-Rod, Pudge v 2.0) and three more who, at the very least, will get some votes (Damon, Abreu, Giambi) and one who might win a batting title this year (Robinson Cano). Greinke did not give up an earned run.

He did give up two unearned runs, thanks to a satisfying double-error by Royals third baseman Alex Gordon -- error on the scoop, then error on the throw to allow the advance -- and then was knocked out of the game after another error, this one by the shortstop and defensive replacement Tony Pena Jr.

Anyway, something clicked for Greinke that day in New York. Well, I don't know if things in life really "click" or if people slowly blossom and mature and the clicking is just for the observers. Whatever, since that day -- Aug. 16, 2008 -- Zack has been a great pitcher. Truly great. He finished off the season allowing just nine earned runs in his final 44 innings -- a 1.84 ERA, if you're curious -- and he had a 41/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and the league hit just .214 against him, and if you watched him pitch in those final weeks, really watched him, you could not help but notice that Zack had become something really special. It wasn't any great bit of genius that inspired me to pick Greinke to win the Cy Young Award before the season started last year.* If you were watching, you could not miss it.

*It took no great genius to pick Ubaldo Jimenez to win the Cy Young Award this year either -- if you watched him pitch last year, you could not miss it. But it's still gratifying to see my Cy pick at 5-0 with an 0.79 ERA, a no-hitter and 0.0 home runs allowed so far.

Greinke lived up to everything in 2009, as you know. His 2.16 ERA not only led all of baseball, it was the best mark by an American League pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2000. We don't need to go over again Greinke's many achievements in 2009 -- lowest WHIP, fewest home runs allowed per nine, 4.75-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio -- you already know how good a year had.

Move into 2010, and it hasn't been quite as smooth for Zack. Nobody really thought it would be. He got smacked around a little bit against Boston. He was uncharacteristically wild against Minnesota. Still, he has allowed 1, 4, 2, 2, 0 earned runs in his five starts, so it's not like he fell apart, either. He has a 2.56 ERA through his first five starts, a more-than-respectable 27/7 strikeout-to-walk, and just about the same WHIP that he had last year.

So what's the point? Well, here's the point: Since Aug. 16, 2008, Zack Greinke has made 46 starts and he has a 2.11 ERA.

The Royals' record in those 46 starts? You betcha: 22-24.

A losing record with the dominant Zack Greinke pitching? The Royals have pulled off a lot of crazy stunts in the last 10 or 15 years. But this just might top them all. How do you have a losing record when the starting pitcher is allowing two earned runs every nine innings?

Well, it hasn't been easy, that's for sure. Here is a quick recap of those 24 losses:

• Aug. 16, 2008: Greinke left the game with the score 2-2 in the 7th. The Yankees won in the 13th.

• Aug. 21, 2008: Greinke pitched five innings against Cleveland and only gave up one earned run. Unfortunately Tony Pena dropped a pop-up, Billy Butler threw the ball away, the Indians scored four unearned runs and were leading 5-3 when Greinke came out. The bullpen turned that into a 10-3 loss.

• Aug. 26, 2008: Greinke gave up no earned runs to Texas in six innings. But an error by Mike Aviles led to one unearned run. The score was tied 1-1 when Greinke left -- the Rangers scored the game-winner in the eighth.

• Sept. 7, 2008: Greinke was not at his best -- a classic six-inning, three-run quality start -- and against Cliff Lee that was not nearly good enough. The Indians won 3-1.

• May 9, 2009: Greinke, with a 6-0 record, allowed one run in a complete game against the Angels. Unfortunately, that was an eight-inning complete game because Joe Saunders threw the only complete game of his career (at least so far).

• May 21, 2009: Greinke allowed two runs in six innings and the Royals were actually leading Cleveland 3-2. Then, as a joke, the Royals thought they might use Horacio Ramirez as a reliever. No, wait, they weren't joking. Cleveland won 8-3.

• May 31, 2009: Sloppy start for Greinke -- three earned runs in seven innings against Chicago. Yes, others might win when they pitch like that... but that's for others' others. It was 4-4 going into ninth when the deadly combination of John Bale and Juan Cruz finished off the Royals' chances. The White Sox won 7-4.

• June 5, 2009: One of Greinke's worst starts of the year -- five earned runs in five innings. The Royals defense chipped in with three errors. The Blue Jays blew out the Royals 9-3.

• June 11, 2009: Again, a bland, good start for Greinke -- 7 1/3 innings, three runs. The Royals were ahead 3-1 when he left, though he did leave two men on. Then the Royals botched a double play grounder, Joakim Soria could not get Jhonny Peralta out (for shame) and Cleveland won 4-3 in the 10th inning*.

*Pretty typical Royals finish -- Kyle Farnsworth enters, Mark DeRosa singles, Victor Martinez singles, Shin-Soo Choo singles, ball hits seagull, Royals lose, cue Three Stooges music.

• June 17, 2009: Greinke wasn't sharp against Arizona and he allowed four earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. Toss in three more Royals errors, an outstanding 0-inning, three-hit, three-run performance by reliever Roman Colon, and, voila, Royals lose 12-5.

• July 3, 2009: The beginning of six consecutive Royals losses when Greinke pitched. Admittedly, he was not especially great in these six games, as exhibited by his worse-than-normal 3.65 ERA, but you know, you can make seven digit salaries with a 3.65 ERA. Six innings, two earned runs in this game. There were two more unearned runs thanks to an Alberto Callaspo error, but it didn't matter. The Royals got shut out by the White Sox and lost 5-0.

• July 8, 2009: Six innings, three runs against Detroit -- not nearly good enough, as someone named Luke French and and three relievers held the Royals to one run.

• July 18, 2009: How about seven innings and one run against Tampa Bay? Is that good enough, Sam I Am? No. The Rays scored three in the eighth off the Lethargic Duo of Bale and Cruz. Royals lose 4-2.

• July 24, 2009: What about holding Texas to one run in seven innings? Shouldn't that be enough? No. Scott Feldman and C.J. Wilson combined on the shutout. Royals lose 2-0.

• July 29, 2009: OK, so now he gives up two runs in six innings against Baltimore. BALTIMORE. There's no way ... oh wait, there's a way. Twenty-one year old Chris Tillman made the start, Matt Albers and Jim Johnson finished the job, Bale and Cruz did what they do best, and the Royals lost 7-3.

• Aug. 3, 2009: Well, this one's on Greinke -- five innings, six runs against Tampa and, heck, the Royals only made one error. Royals get stomped, losing 10-4.

• Aug. 14, 2009: After Greinke finally breaks the losing streak, he goes out and throws seven shutout innings against Detroit. Unfortunately for the Royals, they happened to pick the wrong night to face Jarrod Washburn, who threw eight shutout innings. The right night to face Washburn would have been pretty much any day after that, as the league hit .323 against him the rest of the year.

• Aug. 19, 2009: Four runs in seven innings? That's a no-chancer. The White Sox beat the Royals 4-2.

• Sept. 5, 2009: Eight innings, zero earned runs against the Angels. How did the Royals mess up this one? A Willie Bloomquist error led to the unearned run that sent the game into extra innings. Once there, Yasuhiko Yabuta, the Royals big-time recruit from Japan, ably gave up the game-winner in the 11th.

• Oct. 3, 2009: Greinke got beat fair and square on the last Saturday of the season. Scoreless game in the sixth, Greinke and the Royals decided to pitch to Joe Mauer with a runner on third and two outs in the sixth inning. The Tigers, watching from afar, did not like the decision, but I did. It was gutsy, and it gave the fans a thrill. Mauer singled in the run. A slightly rattled Greinke gave up three more runs. The Twins eventually won 5-4.

• April 5, 2010: Greinke picked up right where he left off, with six innings and only one earned run allowed on Opening Day. A Willie Bloomquist error allowed an unearned run, but the Royals still led 4-2 when Greinke left. The bullpen collapsed. Royals lost 8-4.

• April 10, 2010: Greinke was not sharp but kind of held it together and gave up four runs in 6 2/3 innings against Boston. The bullpen collapsed. Royals lost 8-3.

• April 16, 2010: Again, Greinke not sharp -- walks five guys. Only gives up two earned runs in five innings. Two more unearned come thanks to an error by, yes, Willie Bloomquist. The bullpen collapsed. The Twins won 10-3.

• April 27, 2010: Greinke threw seven shutout innings, and the Royals led 2-0 when he left the game. No way the Royals could mess up this one. And ... the bullpen collapsed. A double play grounder was deflected into right field by reliever Robinson Tejeda. The Royals lost to Seattle 3-2. Zack Greinke remains winless for the 2010 season.

And that is how a team manages a losing record with a starting pitcher who has a 2.11 ERA.

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