When the obvious became apparent 21 months ago to Jason Grilli, the veteran pitcher started making phone calls. He was stuck in the Phillies organization at triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies summoned six relievers from the minors before Grilli despite his overwhelming success.
"I almost went to Korea," Grilli, 36, said.
The Pirates heard about Grilli, who had a clause in his contract that said if any team wished to promote him to the majors, the Phillies either had to do the same or release him. Pittsburgh sent a scout to watch him in late July 2011. They told the Phillies they wanted him July 18. Grilli was released July 20 and signed with Pittsburgh on July 21.
On Monday, he combed his long hair in the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park and joked with his Pirates bullpen mates. Grilli is Pittsburgh's closer; he signed a two-year, $6.75 million deal during the winter.
Grilli has done nothing but succeed since the Phillies discarded him. Entering Monday, he had a 2.54 ERA in 99 1/3 innings since 2011. He was unscored upon in nine outings this season. His 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings since 2011 is among the best in baseball. He has allowed two of his 25 inherited runners to score during that span.
When the Phillies released Grilli, he had a 1.93 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings with the IronPigs.
"With the numbers I was posting in triple A, I thought I was going to get a chance," Grilli said. "They saw it differently. They're entitled to that. I hold no grudges because it's what got me here. It's a process, man."
Grilli had a 4.74 career ERA in the majors and did not pitch in 2010. He is posting his best numbers in his mid-30s. He said Pittsburgh took a chance because manager Clint Hurdle was familiar with his talent.
"When the game's taken away from you, I wanted it so bad," Grilli said. "I was fed up with no one paying attention. I knew I could do this. I was just given roles that people thought were all I was capable of. Moreover, I was just mad because I thought, 'This is it. This is it. I'm going out in a blaze of glory. I'm giving it my all.' I was doing the job asked of me as a middle reliever. Nobody pays attention to that.
"The game has a way of evening itself out. Good players stick around. I'm a resilient one. My perseverance has definitely paid off. I'm living proof of that."
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