The Pittsburgh Pirates placed four players on the National League All-Star team, their best representation in 32 years.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen and closer Jason Grilli are joined by third baseman Pedro Alvarez and left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke. The All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field in New York on Tuesday, July 16.
“We’re not the team that gets a token one selection any more,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve earned our way.”
The Pirates had only the obligatory All-Star representative in 14 of the 16 seasons prior to Hurdle taking over in 2011, with two selections the other years.
“I’m proud of all four. They are organizational wins,” Hurdle said.
McCutchen’s selection by the players was almost a given, since at the conclusion of last season, he was their pick to receive the Players Choice Award as NL Most Outstanding Player.
He becomes the Pirates’ first three-time All-Star since infielder Freddy Sanchez (2006-07, 2009). But he is the Bucs’ first position player to make three consecutive All-Star teams since Bobby Bonilla (1988-91).
Grilli and Alvarez were also picked by their peers. Locke was the only managerial choice, getting Giants and NL skipper Bruce Bochy’s nod.
“I was totally surprised,” Locke said. “And felt honored. It’s something they can’t take away from you. I’m excited to meet a lot of the other guys and to represent this club, which is the most important thing for me.”
The selection is also a confirmation of Grilli’s rise from
career-long obscurity to elite closer, a role he is filling for the first time as a 36-year-old veteran 13 years after his big-league debut. He has 28 saves (in 29 opportunities), a pre-All-Star break club record.
“It’s a dog-and-pony show in the sense it’s a personal accolade, and that’s not why I’m here,” Grilli said of the All-Star experience. “But it is a reflection of what you’ve put in to help the club win. The reaction I got from teammates — the support and the hugs — probably had me choked up the most.”
Locke was recognized for his remarkable about-face after a loss in his first start of the season put his career record at 1-7. He has since won eight consecutive decisions and ranks among the league leaders with a 2.12 ERA.
“I’d have called you a liar,” Locke said of the imagined scenario in which someone told him after that initial outing that two months later he would be an All-Star. “But it goes beyond the numbers; the confidence level is something I did not have before. I got a little edge on the mound.”
Alvarez’s power surge made him a first-time All-Star. He ranks third in NL with 22 homers — 18 of them since the beginning of May. Alvarez is sixth in the league with 57 RBIs.
The most glaring omission is that of Mark Melancon, who statistically is having an even better season than Grilli (0.87 ERA in 42 appearances, compared to 2.15 in 40), but is doing it in the relatively unsung role of a setup reliever.
“For an eighth-inning guy to make it, it’s out of the ordinary,” Hurdle said.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed,” Melancon said with a light shrug. “Fortunately, I’ve got a beautiful wife and a daughter who love me, and I’ll get to spend three days with them. Not a bad ‘consolation.’”
Also bypassed was Francisco Liriano, the veteran left-hander who tied Locke for the team lead by winning his eighth game Friday.