ST. LOUIS -- A few years ago, Skip Schumaker couldn't stand Zack Greinke.
And he wasn't alone.
At the time, in 2011, Greinke pitched for the Brewers and Schumaker played for the Cardinals and the teams were about to meet in the playoffs when Greinke called Chris Carpenter's on-field demeanor a "phony attitude" and said that because of that, a lot of the Brewers didn't like him. Needless to say, that did not play well in the Cardinals clubhouse, where Carpenter is a beloved figure.
Now that they're teammates, Schumaker has gotten to know Greinke, seen him up close, played behind him. And now?
"I love him," Schumaker said Thursday, chuckling at the improbability of that statement. "I hated him in Milwaukee.
"He can't tell a lie. It's funny. You ask him a question, he's not going to sugarcoat it. He's going to tell you exactly what he thinks, whether you like it or not. I asked him the scouting report on me, he told me how bad I am, and he's serious. He's not joking. But that's what you love about him.
"I knew right away in spring training. His personality, it's unique because you don't get that honesty all the time in this game. It's awesome."
Awesome is also a good word to describe Greinke's season. He'll start for the Dodgers on Friday night in Game 1 of the National League championship series, coming off a season with a 15-4 record, a 2.63 ERA, 148 strikeouts to 46 walks, and a fractured collarbone suffered in a brawl that cost him a month of the season.
He's part of a potent 1-2 punch in the Dodgers' rotation, since Greinke may be only the second-best pitcher on the Dodgers staff, behind MVP candidate Clayton Kershaw, who was 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts. Kershaw, who pitched the clinching Game 4 of the Dodgers' NLDS with the Braves on Monday on short rest, will pitch Game 2 on Saturday.
That adds up to one powerful reason why the Dodgers could win this series: If the series goes seven games, Kershaw and Greinke will pitch four of them.
"I think we feel like both guys are our number ones," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, "and so it's nice to be able to start the series out with a guy of his caliber. I think both of those guys make us feel good, and coming in here with a club like St. Louis and knowing what they've got ... To be able to come in here with those two guys, you feel like they're going to compete, no matter where they're at. In this environment, it's nice to have those two right at the top."
Greinke threw no criticisms at the Cardinals on Thursday, praising his opponent -- "They have injuries, and then they bring someone up and it's like they don't miss anything," he said -- while carefully marking his words -- asked about possibly pitching on short rest in this series, he said, "I might give out information that we might want to keep a secret, so I just won't respond to that question for that reason" -- and allowing that since he's no longer in the same division as the Cardinals, the animosity just isn't there anymore.
"They're just sort of another team now," he said. "But when you're playing in the same division, it's lot more of a rivalry. I guess as soon as you switch organizations, the rivalry kind of ends, I guess. That's kind of how it feels in this instance, at least."
And Greinke has been through his share of organizations lately. After seven seasons with the Royals, he joined the Brewers in 2011. On July 27, 2012, the Brewers traded him to the Angels in a deal that netted Milwaukee Jean Segura. He became a free agent after the season and then moved up the Santa Ana Freeway to the Dodgers on a six-year, $147 million contract that was the largest for a righthanded pitcher at the time.
If anyone was afraid that after signing a big contract that Greinke's stats would suffer, that hasn't been the case. His ERA and his WHIP (walks and hits per inning) are his best since 2009, when he had a 2.16 ERA, a 1.073 WHIP and won the AL Cy Young Award. (This year, his WHIP is 1.114.)
"From the highlights I've seen, he looks fantastic," said Cardinals reliever John Axford, a teammate of Greinke's in Milwaukee. "He looks like the Zack we saw in 2011. I hate to say it, even better. ... His stuff seems incredible. He almost seems better than I remember, which is difficult to say since we're facing him tomorrow, but that's the truth."
And the truth is something that is important when it comes to Greinke.
"If you ask him a question, how are you feeling or what's going on ... he's just honest with his answers," Mattingly said. "You talk about using him to pinch hit some and he's like, I don't see this guy good. He's straight up with everything. So it makes it a lot easier to deal with than another guy that gives you an answer that he wants to look a certain way. But Zack just tells you how he feels, so it makes it easy."
Said Schumaker: "He's a great teammate, a really good person, another guy that's a bulldog on the mound. He studies, he knows, he feels like he can turn around and do the shifts himself without anyone telling him. He's moving guys all the time. He's very smart. I'm glad I got to play with him. I wasn't a huge fan of him outside when we played against him, but now he's one of my favorite teammates and I'm really happy I got to play him."
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