Flash back to early October for a moment and you may recall that Jason Grilli worked the ninth inning in all three of the Pirates' postseason victories -- the National League Wild Card Game against Cincinnati, and Game 2 and Game 3 of the NL Division Series versus St. Louis. The fact that he was able to return to the closer's role in time for such critical contests was a tribute to his drive and courage.
Grilli registered an NL-leading 29 saves prior to the All-Star break, but the week after he appeared in the Midsummer Classic at New York's Citi Field, he suffered a strained flexor tendon in his right forearm during a game against Washington. The veteran right-hander was understandably dejected by his sudden reversal of fortune. Grilli told Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle that he was disappointed because he "just wanted to keep riding the wave." Fellow late-inning reliever Mark Melancon said Grilli mentioned that he felt guilty, like he was letting the rest of the bullpen down.
Fortunately a combination of rest, rehabilitation and hard work over the next month and a half got Grilli back on Pittsburgh's active roster by early September. He wound up making nine appearances during the final month of the regular season, and while he may not have been his dominant self, he did help the Pirates secure a playoff spot.
Grilli, who is as high energy as baseball players come, will always be thankful that the situation played out the way it did. He was determined that nothing was going to stand in the way of him being there for his teammates in October.
"I sure as heck wasn't going to miss it," Grilli said. "I wasn't going to let myself down and miss out on those opportunities. I didn't want to let the team down or the fans down. And I didn't want to say, 'We're in the playoffs, but I have to watch.' It's not fun to watch the games at all. Even for eight innings it's hard to watch sometimes, because I'm dying to get out there."
During PirateFest last month, the question Grilli got from fans and members of the media most often was: "How is the right arm?" And he was happy to report that with the benefit of time off, his right arm feels fine.
"It's rested, and sometimes that's the best thing you can do for your body is give it rest," he said.
Grilli -- who turned 37 on November 11 -- knows there will be high expectations for the Bucs in 2014 after 94 regular-season victories and a trip to the playoffs last year. However, that's not something he and his teammates are going to shy away from.
"We have a bar now. We have this standard of what we've accomplished," Grilli said. "So now people are going to want to know, are we over that bar or under that bar? I've been in that position before with the Tigers. After we went to the World Series in 2006, we acquired Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera and everybody was like, 'Oh, you guys are going right back.' Well, it doesn't work that way.
"We had a successful year, so there's no doubt it's exciting. But I always get excited. I get to be a kid again for 200 days or whatever. That's always fun and exciting, but it's a grind too. You have to mentally prepare yourself. Take that vacation during the offseason and do some things that you don't get to do [during baseball season].
"Right now, the excitement of Pirates baseball in this city is abuzz again. That, in itself, is a success. I know I don't want to go backwards. It's not like, 'OK, we did this one great thing.' We didn't win the World Series. That's the goal every Spring Training. You go in and you say, 'We want to build and have a World Series team.' I'm running out of time. I want to be on a world championship team, or at least get the chance to do it again. Everybody here is doing their thing to get ready and be the best they can be."
Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com.