The Pirates' three first-time All-Stars
July, 12, 2011
By Christina Kahrl | ESPN.com
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndrew McCutchen has high expectations for the Pirates in the second half.
You already know the Pittsburgh Pirates are already in a position to break their 18-season streak of losing campaigns. This is also the first time since 1990 the Bucs have had as many as three All-Stars on the squad. Back then, it was Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Neal Heaton, but this year it’s a trio of first-time All-Stars: Joel Hanrahan, Andrew McCutchen and Kevin Correia.
How the three Pirates arrived remains slightly controversial, especially with the furor that cropped up after NL All-Stars skipper Bruce Bochy initially overlooked McCutchen. When asked Monday about how he put his roster together, he was quick to observe, “I got hit pretty hard on McCutchen.”
Add in Correia’s selection over, say, the Braves’ Tommy Hanson, and you can understand how this might be the latest cause for frustration over the picks. Hanrahan, however, isn’t having any of it. On being joined by two of his teammates, he quipped, “It’s nice to have three guys who belong here, instead of one guy who has to be.”
McCutchen was aware of the support that had come his way after Bochy’s initial snub. “I heard a lot, my girlfriend as well. I found myself on lists of ‘top snubs,’ [and] made me think I deserve to be here. That felt good, that felt really good. It let me know people wanted to see me.” As a result of the outcry over his initial inclusion, McCutchen feels it might have raised his profile, if anything: “I definitely felt I got more recognition. It was a little bit of an eye-opener for me.”
He knows this is his chance to show people what he can do on a national stage. “It’s a great opportunity. A lot of people play this game [the All-Star Game] without getting here,” McCutchen said.
The way McCutchen found out -- the Pirates were hosting the Cubs on Saturday in front of the Pirates’ 10th sellout of the season -- made his selection that much more memorable. Fans gave him a standing ovation and he got a curtain call.
“It was quite humbling. They make that announcement (in the fourth inning), you see the fans stand up and go crazy. ... I really just cherish that moment,” he said.
That reflects a change in what the Pirates mean to Major League Baseball.
"Everyone’s rooting for us. It’s special. This is one of those Cinderella stories. It could change people’s lives. We started off in spring training saying what we can do,” McCutchen said. “We’re at the point where we believe in what we can do. We know we can. Sky’s the limit for us.” Noting that he’d seen trailers of Moneyball, he said it made him think about the Pirates, about how “one guy can change a team -- I want to see that movie!”
It is a marked contrast to how he felt when he was called up in 2009. “I was just happy that I was there,” said McCutchen. “Once that settled down, then I started to notice it’s all about winning, and if you don’t do too well, somebody will take your place. There’s definitely a different feeling from past years. We believe we’re going to win.”
Could McCutchen see it coming? “I definitely could. We had guys in the minor leagues I knew could do a good job. I knew it was going to change for us.”
Correia chipped in, noting that, “Alex Presley, I don’t think I’ve seen him make an out in three weeks. We keep bringing up kids like that, and we’ll be OK.”
As for his own introduction to life as an All-Star, the well-traveled Correia was more than modest about his inclusion on the team. “I’m at the All-Star Game, and I might be the fourth-best starter on [my] team. If Paul Maholm got the offense I’ve had, he’d be sitting here.”
But the fourth-best starter, on the Pirates? Per WAR, Correia’s exactly right about his place in the Pirates’ picture.
“Jeff Karstens is throwing the ball as good as any guy in baseball." Correia said. "Charlie Morton has ace-like stuff; he made some mechanical changes, and he throws a two-seam fastball that none of the hitters in this room wants to face. You don’t get much of a break going through our rotation.”
Hanrahan was more generous to his teammate, saying, “I don’t think you can number any of these guys. They take pride going deep in their games. We don’t have the sexy pitching staff, but we get the job done.”
As a nine-year veteran it is sweeter for Correia to be a first-time All-Star. “I definitely appreciate it more. If it happens early, you think it’ll keep happening. Now, I get the full experience of it.” It’s no surprise that Correia looks at this season and thinks, “I definitely made the right choice, coming to Pittsburgh.”
The trio is excited about being here for more than honor. As Hanrahan noted, where they might have joked in the past about Pirates All-Stars, “kind of smirking and saying, go get home-field advantage for the Cardinals, now we’re playing to get it for ourselves.”
“It’s definitely different from the past -- we expect to win," Correia added. "I’ve had a lot more fun surprising people.”
Which would mean ending the streak of 18 losing seasons, presumably, but McCutchen cares more about pursuing higher ambitions.
“It’s more for the fans than for us. It’ll be great for the city. But we’re not going to be satisfied with just finishing over .500. We’re hungry to win a championship.”
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.