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Five for fighting perception: Bucs have star quality

Five for fighting perception: Bucs have star quality

Five for fighting perception: Bucs have star quality

NEW YORK -- As they try to accomplish something that hasn't been done in 20 years, the 2013 Pirates have already reached a milestone not previously seen in their city in more than twice that long. There's a cadre of five Pirates at the All-Star Game, the most since 1972.

And as they see it, that's no accident. This is the best Pirates team in an awfully long time. They're trying to become the first Bucs squad to make the playoffs or have a winning season since 1993. With the Majors' second-best record, they are extremely well positioned to do both.

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So it only makes sense that they'd be well-represented at Citi Field this week. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen, third baseman Pedro Alvarez and pitchers Jeff Locke, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon were all selected -- though Locke will not pitch due to some lower back discomfort.

"It means a heck of a lot, man, just to have that opportunity," said McCutchen, the face of the franchise. "To have five representatives of the Pirates, we hadn't [even] had four in forever. ... It's great to be able to be a part of it and to be able to see it unfold. It's fun, just to see the transition from a few years ago to where we are now."

Even at 26, McCutchen is the dean. He's only been with the club since 2009, but that seems like ages ago. That team went 62-99, and the following year Pittsburgh was 57-105. Since then, it's an upward trajectory that may very well culminate in a playoff berth.

McCutchen, of course, has been a big part of that steady climb. He's an All-Star for the third time. Alvarez, meanwhile, is a big part of this year's team reaching even greater heights than the previous two years.

Also 26, the first-time All-Star is enjoying the best year of his young career. The former No. 2 overall Draft pick is hitting .250 with a .311 on-base percentage, a .516 slugging percentage, and 24 homers in 85 games.

Alvarez's emergence into a star-caliber player has provided a big boost for a team that always needs offense.

"We've always known what he was capable of doing, and it's starting to show now," McCutchen said. "I feel he can only get better from here. I'm definitely looking forward to him continuing to excel and continuing to do better."

As recently as 2011, Alvarez hit .191 and slugged .289 in nearly a half-season's worth of games. He showed signs last year, and is producing more than ever in 2013.

"The struggles that I've had, they've never really taken a toll on me in terms of my confidence," Alvarez said. "I knew it was just a matter of time as long as I kept working hard and kept striving. It's all about taking it in stride, taking it day by day."

For Alvarez, the reward is not just an All-Star appearance, but a hometown one to boot. Though he was born in the Dominican Republic, he grew up in the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights, a neighborhood in uptown Manahattan.

Then there's Locke, who in his own way is just as emblematic of the rise of the Pittsburgh organization. A somewhat unheralded prospect as he rose through the Minors, the left-hander has emerged as a key component in the Pirates' rotation in 2013.

The 25-year-old New Hampshire native is 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA, 73 strikeouts and 47 walks in 109 innings in his first full Major League season. He was acquired, along with rotation-mate Charlie Morton, in the 2009 trade that sent Nate McLouth to Atlanta.

Locke said he doesn't know much about the Pirates' history, about their playoff teams in the 1990s or World Series teams in the '70s -- just that he wants to add to it. And he knows he and his teammates have a chance to do that.

"People have started to pay a little bit more attention," he said. "We've had guys on TV now -- not just the local channels. It's interesting. It's fun to be a part of. I've always known that all I wanted to do was to be a part of something special. They always talk about the 20 losing seasons and this and that, but I just knew that given the opportunity to be part of something special, that's all I wanted -- a chance to change it."

The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.

The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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