Greinke singled home the second of four runs against Kelly, started a critical double play and held the Cards to two runs across seven innings in a 6-4 victory. It preserved the Dodgers' season and sent the series back to St. Louis for Friday night's Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET on TBS), matching Clayton Kershaw, the gold standard, against young right-hander Michael Wacha.
It's uncommon that two of the best athletes on the field are pitchers, but that was the case on this flawless day in Chavez Ravine. At 25, on the threshold of big things after a breakthrough second half, Californian Kelly has an appreciation of the advanced skills displayed by Greinke, a Floridian who turns 30 on Oct. 21.
"With him being as athletic as he is," Kelly said, "I think everybody wants to put up a good season like he's done."
One of the compelling arguments against bringing the designated hitter to the NL is that it strips an edge from a pitcher who can hit. Greinke's run-scoring single to left field in the second inning was no fluke.
"He's a good hitter," Kelly said. "You can't take him lightly. He put a good swing on a good curveball down. They found some holes against me, and I left a couple of fastballs over the middle [to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford] that they turned into home runs."
Greinke batted .328 this season, his 19 hits the most by a Dodgers pitcher since Orel Hershiser's 23 in 1993. Greinke missed five starts after fracturing his left collarbone in an April 11 scrap with the Padres' Carlos Quentin.
Just as impressive, and beneficial, as his bat is Greinke's defense.
"If he doesn't win a Gold Glove," Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis said, "it's a sham. He's as good a fielding pitcher as I've ever seen. He's smart. He wants to be a contributor after he makes a pitch, and he doesn't want to be an out at the plate."
Greinke and Kelly were matched in Game 1 at Busch Stadium, neither figuring in the decision taken by the Cardinals, 3-2, in 13 innings. Kelly, who went six innings, singled in the third inning off Greinke and scored a run. Greinke made it through eight innings.
Greinke doesn't throw as hard as Kelly, whose machine-gun deliveries reach 97 mph, but his savvy and instincts are assets along with a deep arsenal. He labored early in Game 5, working out of a bases-loaded jam with none out in the first inning before yielding two runs in the third. Greinke escaped a first-and-third mess by stabbing Yadier Molina's sharp grounder to start a double play turned at second by shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
"He definitely displayed his athleticism on that double-play ball, which I wouldn't say is very easy," said Brian Wilson, the Dodgers' setup artist. "You don't necessarily think a guy's going to hit it back to you like that, but he puts himself in a good [fielding] position."
Like 18-time Gold Glove winner Greg Maddux, Greinke smothers everything with a shortstop's hands and quickness, giving the Dodgers a fifth infielder.
Asked about turning points in Game 5, Greinke referred to inning-ending grounders by Molina to Juan Uribe in the first and the one he handled in the third.
"The biggest ones were the two double plays," he said. "I mean, those were really exciting."
Not since July 2010, spanning 94 regular-season starts, has Greinke committed an error.
"He's so competitive about getting better and making pitches and with everything he does," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "The hitting part, he loves that. He's just super competitive, and it's just been fun to watch."
Departing with a 4-2 lead after seven innings, holding the Cards to six hits and a walk while striking out four, Greinke watched the Dodgers finally solve the St. Louis bullpen. Homers by A.J. Ellis off Edward Mujica and Gonzalez, his second, against John Axford provided valuable insurance.
Wilson shut down the Cardinals in the eighth before they raised pulses with a two-run rally in the ninth that was shut down by closer Kenley Jansen.
"They're a deep lineup, a lot like ours," Kelly said. "You've got to make pitches. Even Greinke, you've got to be aware of him."
While he's not yet the hitter Greinke is, Kelly is a "phenomenal athlete," according to Angels slugger Mark Trumbo, one of his winter workout buddies. A native of Anaheim who attended Corona High School and the University of California at Riverside, Kelly dunks a basketball easily, Trumbo says.
"It's pretty cool watching athletes like those two guys pitch," said Cards closer Trevor Rosenthal. "Joe's one of a kind, a special talent. He can do anything. Show him how to do it, and he'll pick it up.
"Growing up, and in college, I was an infielder, so I can appreciate the way they field their position. I've always been an advocate of pitchers hitting. Greinke definitely helps himself with the bat."
Greinke has spent most of his career in the American League, with 223 appearances compared to 77 in the NL.
"He's one of the rare good arguments against the DH," Mark Ellis said, grinning. "There are a lot of guys who are arguments for the DH."