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Pirates closer Grilli calls 1st career save stepping stone

| Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 10:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli reachs to shutting down the Cardinals in the ninth inning for his first save of the playoffs Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at PNC Park.

Jason Grilli's fist was in the air before first baseman Gaby Sanchez stepped on the bag to record the final out of the Pirates' 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.

Another win in the books. And it was a big one.

Not only did it mean the Pirates have a chance to advance to the National League Championship Series with a win on Monday, but it also was Grilli's first-ever postseason save.

Clubhouse manager Scott Bonnett made sure to retrieve the ball and set it in Grilli's locker. The 36-year-old said he keeps all the baseballs from his saves — 33 from the 2013 regular season — tucked away in various corners of his home away from home.

Sunday's ball would make a total of 39, including five from Grilli's previous 330 major-league games before the Pirates re-signed him in the offseason and made him their closer despite his lack of experience in the role.

He doesn't have a favorite. Not yet.

“There's no one (ball) that's more special because it's all a stepping stone to the last one,” Grilli said. “That's the way I look at it. Just to contribute, finish it, I mean, it's not even about me getting a save.

“There's so much work guys are putting into the way we play. Our bullpen is awesome, our middle relievers are incredible. (Mark) Melancon's been incredible.

“It's just the way this team has played all year. It's fun.”

Grilli pitched in each of the Pirates' two previous postseason wins, but they already had the game well in hand before he took the ball.

On Sunday, the Pirates had just responded to a solo home run by Carlos Beltran in the top of the eighth that tied the game at 3-3 with a pair of runs of their own in the bottom of the inning.

When Grilli ran in from the bullpen, the crowd of 40,489 was still beside itself with excitement.

Grilli said he tries to block the cheering and screaming out, though, if only for the sake of self-preservation.

“I felt like I could lift up my Hummer with the adrenaline that was flowing, so you have to slow it down a little bit,” said Grilli, who missed all of August with a flexor strain in his right arm. “You have to take it in stride and try to use it to your advantage. If you get too pumped it's like being a bull in a china shop.

“We're not playing football out there. We've got to still make our pitches, slow the game down. If you let it take hold of you it can be too much.”

Grilli gave up a leadoff single to Matt Adams, but the next three batters went down in order.

“That's what we do, when we get to the ninth inning we hand the ball over to Grilli,” said Josh Harrison, who scored the go-ahead run. “We have faith in him, just like we have faith in the rest of the shark tank.”

Another win in the books, and it was a big one. Grilli believes it won't be the biggest.

“Every game's an important one,” Grilli said. “That's all it means.”

Karen Price is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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