It didn't mean all that much to him, though. Before he even made it to the big leagues, he had told reporters that his first win would be O.K., but that his first home run would be special. It would certainly prove to be memorable, occurring as it did on perhaps the worst pitching day of his life, in June 2005 against Arizona. He gave up 15 hits and 11 runs in just 4 1/3 innings. But on Greinke's first at bat he hit a long fly ball to the wall in right. In his next at bat Greinke crushed a long home run to left.
"I remember when he hit that home run, [manager] Buddy [Bell] walked to the top step and looked up at me in the press box with his hands out," Baird says. "And it was like, You have got to be kidding me."
71-mph curveball, down and in, foul ball
Here's another Greinke story: During a dreadful 2005 season in which he would finish with a 5--17 record and a 5.80 ERA, Brian Anderson remembers Greinke once suddenly announcing in the dugout, "I'm going to throw a 50-mph curveball next inning." That was all he said.
Next inning, Greinke threw a preposterously slow curve to Detroit's Dmitri Young, the kind that made the whole crowd shout "Oooh." Anderson stuck his head out of the dugout to get the reading. It was precisely 50 mph.
The incident says something about Greinke's quirkiness and a virtuoso's feel for pitching, but it reveals more than that, too. It shows that Greinke was in trouble. He hated pitching so much that he had to invent little games to keep himself from crumbling. Everything was falling apart. He feuded with his pitching coach, Guy Hansen, who wanted him to move five inches to the left on the rubber. Never close to his teammates, he became even more distant, occasionally hostile.
Off the field it was worse. The simplest tasks overwhelmed him. He dreaded coming to the ballpark. Greinke talked with friends and family about becoming a full-time position player so that he could get to hit or, perhaps, taking up professional golf. He often talked with his family about it being another gray day.
The following spring training Greinke felt so distracted, he could not even concentrate on pitching. During one bullpen session his mind raced and he could not throw a strike. The next time out the results were no better. On a February morning in 2006 Greinke met with Bell and Baird and said that he needed to get away from baseball.
And here is where everything turned. Baseball is not a game known for understanding or compassion. The gentle relief pitcher for the Royals, Dan Quisenberry, wrote a poem about his manager Dick Howser, the refrain being Howser's quote for every occasion: "Piss on it." That was Howser's answer for losses, for slumps, for bad pitching performances, for anything gone wrong. Piss on it. Get 'em tomorrow.
And that's the image of the big league game: cold, hard, rub some dirt on it, walk it off, there's no crying in baseball, Texas manager Billy Martin once telling Mike Hargrove that Hargrove could not take off to attend his father-in-law's funeral because "that's not immediate family."