Pirates duo hopes to benefit from NL's ASG win

Pirates duo hopes to benefit from NL's ASG win

Pirates duo hopes to benefit from NL's ASG win
KANSAS CITY -- Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan noted with pride the significance of the Pirates being represented by at least two All-Stars for the second consecutive season. It's a sign of an old franchise back on its feet, in first place in the National League Central for the second straight July, and this time hoping to taste the same success into August, September and maybe even October.

Thanks to the National League's 8-0 win in the 83rd All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, a World Series Game 7 could be played at PNC Park.

"They're dying for it," Hanrahan said.

But there is work to do beginning on Friday in Milwaukee, where the NL Central-leading Pirates will begin the second half with a one-game lead on the second-place Reds and a 2 1/2 game edge on the third-place Cardinals.

Both of the Pirates contributed to the NL's third straight All-Star victory, and the first shutout since 1996: McCutchen by playing five innings in center field and singling in his first at-bat, and Hanrahan by overcoming some wildness to retire hometown star Billy Butler in the ninth. He was one of three NL pitchers to work the final frame.

Hanrahan made his appearance interesting. He inherited a runner at first base and fired two wild pitches, one that nearly hit Butler and another that sailed to the backstop. Another pitch went to the backstop but caromed back, freezing the runner at third, before Hanrahan blew Butler away with a 98 mph fastball.

Hanrahan pumped his glove and took a few steps off the mound. Never mind there were only two outs.

"I knew I was only going to be in for one out, so I figured I would save the manager a trip and walk off the field," Hanrahan said. "That will be a highlight I can talk about -- they'll make fun of me for it. I don't like getting pulled from the game, I guess."

Now it's back to serious work. The Pirates were also optimistic last July, only to fade in the second half.

The goal this year is to avoid a similar letdown, and to give the fans who have been filling the seats at PNC Park more to cheer about than one of baseball's most beautiful venues.

"It's been different," McCutchen said. "It's kind of reminiscent of last year, around this time. It shows [the fans] are there, ready to come, ready to get after it. It's definitely been fun."

He had some fun beginning in the fifth inning on Tuesday, when McCutchen took over in center field for the NL All-Stars. He hit a one-out single to left field off White Sox left-hander Chris Sale in the top of the sixth, a hit that followed Chipper Jones' memorable chopper to right field in his All-Star Game farewell. Sale escaped the inning without allowing a run.

Hanrahan warmed in the fifth inning but had to wait until the ninth to get into the game. After he recorded the inning's second out, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon wrapped up the win.

Beginning Friday, it will be Hanrahan's turn to close things out.

"We said it all the way back in Spring Training, that last year, we played good for four months, and then the last two months weren't good," Hanrahan said. "We know we have to finish better. Somebody told me the numbers on our second half the other day and I was like, 'What?' It doesn't even seem like that's possible."

Those numbers: 47-43 before the 2011 All-Star break, 25-47 after.

But ...

"The times are changing," Hanrahan said.

This year, Hanrahan said, the Pirates were actually disappointed to have only a pair of All-Stars (Kevin Correia also made the All-Star Game for Pittsburgh in 2011, but didn't pitch in the game). McCutchen and Hanrahan represented Pittsburgh for the second straight season, but they wanted more. McCutchen certainly did.

"There were other guys deserving of being here," McCutchen said. "Look what James McDonald has done, what A.J. Burnett has done. Guys in the bullpen have done a great job -- those guys don't get attention.

"But to have both [he and Hanrahan] here, it shows we're going in the right direction. People are starting to pay attention to us."

The Pirates' second-half success will hinge in no small measure on this pair of All-Stars; Hanrahan bidding for consistency after converting 23-of-26 save chances, and McCutchen perhaps bidding for a batting title. He will begin the second half with a Major League-best .362 batting average.

"We're definitely in a better position this year than we were last year," Hanrahan said. "We have a better group of guys, guys with more experience. It's going to be a fun second half."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.