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Zack Greinke: The Royals' Once and Future King

The Royals sold 6,500 walk-up tickets for Monday night's game against the Chicago White Sox. A staggering sum for a franchise that has fielded just one winning team since 1993 but clearly fans in the Show Me State sense that things are starting to turn and a major reason for that is 25-year-old starting pitcher Zack Greinke.

Greinke, not coincidentally, was Monday's starter and rewarded the Royals fans by turning in a start that is becoming so commonplace for him that it would be boring to stare at the box score were his feats not so amazing.

Greinke is 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA and 54 strikeouts and leads the majors in all three categories. He has thrown three complete games and struck out 10 on three occasions this year (he managed to do both in Monday's 3-0 win over Chicago), and has not thrown less than seven strikeouts in any game this season. He has an upper 90's fastball while being able to throw a curveball so slow it wouldn't get you pulled over on a Missouri highway, in fact, he used both on consecutive pitches against Chicago lead off man Jayson Nix on Monday.

But for all the skills that he possesses that make him such a compelling player to watch, what's most impressive about Zack Greinke is the fact that he almost walked away from the game three years ago.

Joe Posnanski wrote a compelling cover story on Greinke in the May 4 issue of Sports Illustrated that detailed a young player that didn't become a full-time pitcher until his senior year of high school. A pitcher who was seemingly bored by the game at age 20. A person who at age 23 wondered if it was time for a change in profession. All of which led Zack Greinke to taking two months off from baseball during which he learned that he suffered from social anxiety disorder.

The Royals didn't know if he would rediscover a reason to pitch or, if he did, whether or not he'd be in the right mindset to do so. But after his self-imposed sabbatical, Greinke was ready to get back to baseball and the team's former Pitcher of the Year was back down in Class AA having fun and throwing harder than ever.

Greinke worked his way back up to the majors in 2007, first as a reliever then returning to the rotation. In 2008 he went 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA and this year, well, he's in the same category as Fernando Valenzuela and Walter Johnson as the only pitchers to start a season 6-0 with an ERA below 0.50.

At some point Greinke's going to get knocked around but the key will be how he responds, here's hoping he handles the pressure well, I know I'll be rooting for him.

I mean, how can you not root for a guy who loves Chipotle and pop culture? He sounds like me but with athletic abilities.

By CJ Holley  |  May 5, 2009; 2:06 PM ET
Categories:  Royals  
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