ATLANTA -- A few minutes after the conclusion of the Pirates' 4-2 win Saturday night, Jason Grilli recounted his contributions through quivering lips, seemingly near tears.
The emotional outpouring had little to do with the fact Grilli had struck out the side in the eighth inning -- and everything to do with his inspiration for doing so.
Bree McMahon was in the stands, watching him pitch for the first time. She was only one of 34,086 fans at Turner Field, but her eyes were the only ones felt by Grilli, a hardened 35-year-old veteran who two years ago gained a perspective he retains from the young college athlete.
Grilli was in an Orlando rehab facility recovering from right knee surgery, and remembers that day with crystal clarity.
"I was sulking pretty good, feeling sorry for myself," he said. "And in walks this beautiful girl, and she sits across the table from me and I see she had no leg. Lost her left leg in an accident while a senior in high school. She has a prosthetic leg, and she's playing on the soccer team at Brevard College in North Carolina.
"It was a wakeup call. We formed a pretty solid bond. She's here for me, and I'm here for her. She had never seen me pitch before, and she wanted to come down, and it was a treat.
"It's been pretty emotional for me. I feel like I'm laying it on the line, and having her here is special. Not to overdramatize things, but it's been a gravel road to get to this point in my career, and I'm enjoying the heck out of it. I was charged up, knowing she was here."
Grilli was signed by the Pirates late last July upon his release by the Phillies, who had never given him a call from the Minors, and immediately joined the Bucs. He has followed up his effectiveness in the second half of the 2011 season (2.48 ERA in 28 appearances) to become the team's primary setup man.
In nine innings this season, he has a 15-to-1 strikeouts-to-walk ratio, and regularly lights up the radar gun in the mid-90s.
"I'm just having fun," he said. "It's not the snapshot I always envisioned of what my career was going to be when I was 20 years old and starting out. It's been a bumpy road, but looking back, I think I would travel it again, because it's gotten me to where I'm at right now. I wouldn't trade that for any amount of money in the world."