Zack Greinke Attacking History Like Few Pitchers Have in Modern Era

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2015

Tommy Gilligan/USA Today

If Zack Greinke keeps pitching like he has been, he'll leave Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn in the dust.

Entering play Sunday, Greinke owned a 1.39 ERA, just behind Radbourn for 20th on the all-time single-season list. After twirling eight shutout frames against the Washington Nationals, Greinke lowered his mark to a minuscule 1.30, moving him past Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown and into a tie with Jack Coombs for 16th place all time.

If those names sound like a blast from the way-back past, well, that's because they are. Coombs last pitched in 1920, Brown in 1916 and Radbourn in 1891—which says a lot about the historically great season Greinke is having.

And there could be more history in the offing. With Sunday's gem, Greinke has now tossed 43.2 consecutive scoreless innings. That's the most by any pitcher since R.A. Dickey's 44.2-inning streak in 2012, per Baseball Almanac

More to the point, it puts Greinke within shouting distance of the all-time record of 59 innings, set by another Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander, Orel Hershiser, in 1988.

Of Greinke, Clayton Kershaw says, "There's no one like him."
Of Greinke, Clayton Kershaw says, "There's no one like him."Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

That talk will have to wait at least a few more starts, if Greinke can keep putting up zeroes. For now, he and the Dodgers can bask in the glow of another exemplary outing.

Greinke throttled the Nats on Sunday, holding the National League East leaders to three singles and outdueling fellow NL Cy Young contender Max Scherzer. Oh, and he racked up a season-high 11 strikeouts for good measure.

According to Elias Sports Bureau data (via ESPN Stats & Info), Greinke is only the third hurler since the dawn of the 20th century to string together six straight scoreless starts in a season:

We could keep going like this, piling stat on top of stat. But the best thing is simply to watch Greinke work.

He has it all going right nowthe full array of pitches, the precision control, the swing-and-miss stuff. You know the cliche about guys making it look easy?

Greinke is making it look easy.

That hasn't always been the case for the cerebral right-hander. He has wrestled with social anxiety and depression, which caused him to miss two months of the 2006 season with the Kansas City Royals.

In 2007, Greinke found himself in Kansas City's bullpen, though by 2009 he had bounced back to win an American League Cy Young Award.

Now at age 31 and pitching as well as he ever has, Greinke remains a unique figure off the field, as rotation-mate Clayton Kershaw explained to USA Today's Bob Nightengale"He's just such an interesting guy. There's no one like him. He has a ton of different things that interest him and he's constantly gaining knowledge from different things. He wants to learn stuff, read stuff, and if he deems you worthy of listening, he'll tell you about it."

So he's an enigma, a riddle, an oddity. That only adds to his appeal, lending shades and nuance to the unvarnished dominance he's displaying between the lines.

"I don't really think about it," Greinke said of the scoreless streak, per Anthony Witrado at ESPN.com. "I had a good [streak] in Kansas City, but I don't really pay attention to it. I guess I just don't think about the past, or the future."

ESPN Insider Buster Olney thinks "Greinke is throwing so well and is such an unusual pitcher that it seems like a foregone conclusion" he'll opt out of his $147 million Dodgers contract this fall and seek an even bigger free-agent payday. 

It's hard to argue with the logic there, especially when you consider the $210 million deal Scherzer got with the Nationals this winter. That was before Scherzer's current, career-best campaign. And Greinke, right now, is outpitching Mad Max.

Heck, he's outpitching everyone, including players who hung 'em up during the Benjamin Harrison administration.

This is a pitcher at the absolute peak of his game. Greinke is challenging history every time he takes the hill.

Move over, Old Hoss Radbournyou've got company. 

All statistics current as of July 19 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

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