KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Zack Greinke was bracing himself for a harsh reception from Royals fans when he made his return to Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night.
Instead, he got mostly silence.
Luis Mendoza had something to do with that. Billy Butler’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning probably helped a bit. But perhaps the biggest thing that has managed to quell any ill will is simply the time that has passed since he was traded away nearly two years ago.
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Greinke must have been relieved by the relatively tame reception, too. He pitched seven mostly superb innings before Butler’s single gave Kansas City a 2-1 victory over Milwaukee.
“It was nice because I was pretty rude on the way out, but I felt like I had to be. I don’t like being the bad guy,” said Greinke, who had eight strikeouts without issuing a walk in his first appearance against his former team.
Alex Gordon homered to lead off the bottom of the first — the only real mistake that Greinke made all night. He then doubled leading off the eighth against Francisco Rodriguez (0-4), heading to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Getz. That set the table for Butler’s RBI single.
“They had an opportunity, and they came through. Butler got a hit,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “That was it.”
Along the way, Mendoza carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning for Kansas City, and then got some help from his bullpen when he put runners on the corners with none out.
Aaron Crow limited the damage to Rickie Weeks’ tying single, and Greg Holland (2-2) survived a shaky eighth inning to get the game to Jonathan Broxton, who also put runners on the corners with one out in the ninth. He recovered to strike out George Kottaras and get fellow pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad to ground out to shortstop to end the game and wrap up his 15th save.
The victory snapped the Royals’ four-game losing streak.
“Every inning it’s like, `OK, no hits this inning.’ Of course I knew it was a no-hitter,” said Mendoza, who has shuffled between the bullpen and rotation much of the season.
“You have to keep it a close game,” he said, “because Greinke’s a great pitcher.”
Greinke was chosen by the Royals in the first round of the 2002 draft, and they stuck by him through the well-documented personal issues that forced him to leave the game for a while.
He returned to become one of the baseball’s best pitchers, going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA in 2009 to win the American League Cy Young Award. He regressed only slightly the following year, and was eventually dealt to Milwaukee after the 2010 season.
The Royals picked up their starting shortstop, Alcides Escobar, along with outfielder Lorenzo Cain and minor league pitcher Jake Odorizzi in the deal. Yet many still wonder whether they were wrong to trade away one of their best homegrown pitchers.
Greinke certainly gave those folks some fodder in his return to Kauffman Stadium.
After serving up Gordon’s sixth career leadoff homer, Greinke allowed only one hit over the next four innings, striking out the side in the fourth. He didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until the fifth, and then left him stranded there by recording three straight outs.
His low-90s fastball and pinpoint command was precisely what Royals fans remembered.
Mendoza gave them something entirely unexpected.
The underwhelming right-hander, who had been shuttling between the starting rotation and the bullpen most of the season, set Milwaukee down in order in the first inning.
He didn’t allow a runner until walking Weeks with two out in the second, and that was it until he hit Norichika Aoki on the foot leading off the fourth inning.
By the time Mendoza had shut down Milwaukee in order the next two innings — and had thrown just 64 pitches — there were some rumblings that Mendoza could be on his way to pitching the fifth no-hitter in franchise history, and the first since Bret Saberhagen more than 20 years ago.
Things got a bit dicey in the seventh, but Kansas City managed to hang on for a victory over the Brewers — and some would argue one of their own.
“Zack was going to be Zack,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “You knew he was going to be tough coming back.”
NOTES: Yost said LHP Jonathan Sanchez (left biceps tendinitis) will come off the DL to start Wednesday. The starting rotation will be pushed back by a day, leaving RHP Luke Hochevar to start the series finale Thursday night. LHP Randy Wolf starts Wednesday for Milwaukee. … The Royals activated 2B Getz (bruised ribs) and optioned 2B Johnny Giavotella to Triple-A Omaha before the game. … Braun’s single in the seventh extended his interleague hitting streak to 17 games.