It took four years, but the good people of Kansas City finally got their chance to boo Zack Greinke.
His days were good ones here. The Kansas City Royals made him a first-round draft pick, stuck by his side when he asked for time off to treat an anxiety issue, beamed as he blossomed into a Cy Young Award winner in 2009. The Royals have not taken down the oversized, framed copy of the Sports Illustrated cover that proclaimed him “The Best Pitcher in Baseball.”
The best pitcher in baseball wanted to play for a team that could play in October. Greinke said it loud and clear, and the Royals traded him in 2010. Four years have passed and still the fans remember the guy with the golden arm that essentially called their team a loser.
“Fans want people that want to be here,” the Royals’ Billy Butler said Monday. “I don’t think they ever forgot that.”
Greinke took the loss Monday, not the Royals. He gave up a season-high five runs in 52/3 innings, enough for the Royals to hang a 5-3 loss on the Dodgers.
The Royals traded Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, who got 49 starts out of him. The Brewers forwarded him to the Angels, who got 13 starts out of him.
And then came the big contract, the one Greinke had vowed he never would sign with the Royals. He got it from the Dodgers, for $147 million, at the time the most money ever lavished on a right-handed pitcher.
The Royals signed Jason Vargas for $32 million last off-season, and that was a big deal around here. Might the fans have booed out of spite, since the Dodgers play in an economic league in which the Royals cannot hope to compete?
“I don’t know,” Greinke said. “I was pretty rude on the way out. They have every right to be mad at me.”
“I didn’t want to be rude,” he said. “I felt I had to in order to get traded, and I wanted to get traded.”
In his two previous starts in Kansas City as a visiting player, one with the Brewers and one with the Angels, he gave up one run each time. He said the fans treated him just fine both times.
“It’s weird,” he said. “I pitched good the last time I was here, and they cheered. I pitched good the first time, and they cheered. This time, they cheered when they announced my name, and they booed when I gave up the runs.”
Might the fans be conflicted? Greinke wouldn’t go there.
“I’m not a psychologist,” he said.
On Monday, the Dodgers lost for the fourth time in Greinke’s last five starts. He gave up 11 hits Monday, for the second time in four starts.
“I don’t think he’s been extremely sharp for three or four starts,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s still been good.”
Greinke sounded reluctant to give himself that much credit on a night his fastball was working and his off-speed pitch, any off-speed pitch, was not.
“They didn’t even have to respect it,” he said. “It was like a favor if I threw them an off-speed pitch.”
Here’s the thing: The Dodgers, and their world-record payroll, are 42-36. The Royals are 40-36. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar, two of the players the Royals got from Milwaukee for Greinke, each had two hits Monday.
History suggests Greinke made the right call here, if the rude one. The Royals have not appeared in the playoffs since 1985.
For now, however, the Royals are closer to first place in their division than the Dodgers are in theirs.
“They’re playing good now,” Greinke said. “You knew it was going to take time, and now is the time, it seems like.”