Not too long after losing the closer role, Jason Grilli was given a clean slate on Friday after being traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Los Angeles Angels for fellow former closer Ernesto Fireri.
It’s a bittersweet day for Grilli, who gets another chance to become the closer for a playoff contending team but leaves the city that truly made him.
In Florida, where his career started as a starting pitcher, in Detroit where he lived out the dream of playing in the World Series in 2006, in Colorado and Texas, Grilli was a nobody. In 2010, Grilli spent the entire season recovering from a torn quadriceps muscle that had him searching for a career in the marketing industry in case baseball was finally over for him after nearly a decade.
Then he joins the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of the 2011 season and signs a two-year deal after the 2012 season to become the closer for the Bucs. In 2013, he was everything – the Don, Captain Closer, and most of all – an All-Star.
“I got the opportunity and ran with it,” said Grilli in his best 1990’s rock star voice. “You got to be put in successful situations and I worked to get healthy [from 2010-2011] and put myself in line to warrant those opportunities, but more so being in the right place and the right time. [Pirates manager Clint Hurdle] and I have a history and he knows what I’m capable of and saw value in me and it seems fitting. So when I finally got that opportunity that I always wanted and relished, I’m just taking it and running with it.”
That opportunity was being the one guy who is called on to secure the victory in the game’s final moments. Grilli was always the same guy and the same pitcher but he looked incredibly different on the mound as a Pirate compared to his previous stints in the Tigers, Rockies and Rangers bullpen where fans only saw him when their team was getting destroyed.
That middle reliever role that Grilli donned for most of his pre-Pirates career is the baseball version of a janitor; the guy who sweeps the stage after every show. Once a starting pitcher gets the cane early after bombing it on the mound, it was clear the show was over and that’s when Grilli would come in.“
You get the luxury of pitching a little differently when you don’t have to come in and clean up a mess and pitch in the middle of an inning,” Grilli said. “That’s the harder part of the game in my opinion cause I’ve done that. That’s the hardest, most thankless role.”
It also didn’t help his cause at the time to pitch in a loaded AL Central and later in Coors Field which for pitchers is a destination worse than Hell.
But what it actually did was prepare Grilli for this moment and even though his career defining run in Pittsburgh has come to an end – he was entering free agency at season’s end anyway – the opportunistic Grilli gets a new opportunity in the City of Angels.