PITTSBURGH — Jason Grilli revived his flagging career during his three years in Pittsburgh, becoming an All-Star closer in 2013 while helping lead the Pirates back to the playoffs for the first time in two decades.
The energetic Grilli was a dynamic presence in the clubhouse and on the hill, where his fastball could be electrifying. The Pirates relied on it two years ago. And they knew it was coming when he came on for Atlanta in the 10th inning of a tie game Friday night.
Andrew McCutchen took the first pitch he saw from Grilli and doubled. Three batters later, Jordy Mercer smacked an offering from Grilli off the wall in right field to send McCutchen sprinting home and lift the Pirates to a 3-2 win.
“McCutchen knows my style,” Grilli said. “I’m trying to get ahead, he’s aggressive. Leadoff guy gets on. Sometimes you can create a situation when a leadoff guy gets on.”
Grilli (2-3) intentionally walked Starling Marte and struck out Pedro Alvarez before jumping ahead of Mercer — only to have Mercer respond with his third hit of the night and the third walkoff of his career.
“I was ready for it,” Mercer said. “I know he’s not going to go away from his strength. I had an idea of what’s coming.”
Mark Melancon (1-1) pitched a scoreless top of the 10th for Pittsburgh as the Pirates’ bullpen didn’t allow a hit in three innings of relief. Alvarez added two RBIs for Pittsburgh.
Juan Uribe homered for Atlanta and Eddie Perez had two hits, but the Braves dropped their fourth straight game.
Atlanta’s Williams Perez came in unbeaten and had little trouble until the fifth, when a liner off Josh Harrison’s bat drilled Perez in his right foot. Perez lay on his stomach for several moments while being tended to by trainers.
He opted to stay in the game, but with his plant leg hobbled, his control abandoned him. Perez walked Neil Walker on four pitches, balked Walker to second and then hit McCutchen before leaving.
X-rays on the ankle were negative though Perez was wearing a walking boot after the game as a precaution.
“Things like this happen,” Perez said. “It’s part of the game. I dodged a bullet and I’m hoping to be out there soon.”
Luis Avilan came on to replace Perez, but gave up an infield single to Marte and a flare to center by Alvarez that scored to Walker and McCutchen. The first RBIs off a left-hander by the left-handed Alvarez this season gave Pittsburgh the lead.
It didn’t last long. Uribe took a changeup from Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano and sent it out of McCutchen’s reach and over the wall in center field for just his third homer since coming to Atlanta in a trade with the Dodgers a month ago.
The Pirates ran themselves out of a chance to win the game in the ninth, but had little trouble getting to Grilli, who was an All-Star closer with Pittsburgh in 2013. McCutchen jumped on Grilli’s fastball that jumped over the left-field wall for a ground-rule double. Grilli intentionally walked Starling Marte and after Alvarez struck out Mercer’s fly to right kept carrying as McCutchen raced home.
“We thought Mercer would be a guy we could get out,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “hit a ball on the ground, groundball double play and get out of the inning.”
Braves: Atlanta placed RHP Brandon Cunniff on the 15-day disabled list Friday with a right groin strain and recalled RHP Sugar Ray Marimon from Triple-A Gwinnett. Cunniff tweaked the groin in his last appearance against Washington on Thursday. Marimon is 3-2 with a 3.49 ERA in 10 career appearances.
Pirates: Pittsburgh placed RHP Rob Scahill on the 15-day disabled list with right forearm tightness. Scahill (2-4) had given up a run in each of his last two appearances, including the winning home run to Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips in a 5-4, 13-inning loss Thursday night. Pittsburgh brought up RHP Deolis Guerra from Triple-A Indianapolis and transferred 1B/OF Andrew Lambo to the 60-day disabled list while he recovers from a bout of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Braves: Julio Teheran (5-3, 4.67 ERA) starts for Atlanta. Teheran is 2-0 with a 3.29 ERA in five games against Pittsburgh.
Pirates: RHP Charlie Morton will try to bounce back from a nightmarish start last Sunday in Washington, when he gave up nine runs while failing to get out of the first inning, the shortest start of his career. Morton’s ERA ballooned to 3.97 while taking his first loss of the season after winning each of his first five starts in his return from offseason hip surgery.