Jason Grilli has seen a lot of guys get the envelope with the All-Star logo that marks their official invitation to the game, but hours after he received his, it still sat unopened in his locker at Wrigley Field.
“I can’t even open it yet, because I’ll lose it,” Grilli said. “I’ll lose it. I just have to take my time and digest everything.”
At age 36 with a professional baseball career that began in 1998, the Pirates’ closer has waited the longest and traveled the hilliest road to his first All-Star Game.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is 25-year-old left-handed starter Jeff Locke, who entered this season with 68 days of major league service and will join Grilli at the Midsummer Classic at Citi Field on July 16.
Somewhere in between fall outfielder Andrew McCutchen, making his third straight All-Star appearance, and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick of the 2008 draft who spent his first full season in the major leagues in 2012.
Locke was selected by National League manager Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants, while the others got in on the players’ vote.
It is the first time the Pirates will have four representatives at the All-Star Game since 1981, when they sent outfielders Dave Parker and Mike Easler, second baseman Phil Garner and third baseman Bill Madlock. It is also the first time they have had multiple players go to the game in at least three straight years since 1990-93.
The Pirates could get a fifth representative in catcher Russell Martin, who would be a candidate to replace the St. Louis’ Yadier Molina. Molina was injured Friday and missed Saturday’s game.
“We’re not the team that gets the one guy, the token one, anymore,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve earned our way, and these players have earned their way.”
McCutchen isn’t having the overwhelming first half he did in 2012, when he hit .362 with 18 home runs and 60 RBI, but he is still batting .301 with nine homers and 45 RBI through 83 games.
Grilli entered Saturday’s game with a league-leading 28 saves, most by an NL pitcher prior to the All-Star break since Washington’s Chad Cordero had 31 in 2005.
Alvarez hit his 22nd home run of the season during the fourth inning of Saturday’s loss to the Cubs and is one from tying Colorado’s Carlos Gomez for the NL lead.
Locke is 8-1 with an eight-game winning streak and has the second-lowest ERA (2.12) in the NL behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (1.93). His winning percentage (.889) is second in the league behind Arizona’s Patrick Corbin (.900).
Despite his numbers, Locke said he still was surprised when Hurdle gathered the team before the game and delivered the news.
“You don’t ever really think it’s going to be you, no matter what you’re doing,” Locke said. “You know you work hard and put the time in, and your main focus is always here with your club. You don’t really think about the personal accolades. I know I don’t anyway. I think it’s always a surprise.”
For Alvarez, who grew up in New York and went to Horace Mann High School in the Bronx, the All-Star Game will be a homecoming. It also comes after beginning the season batting .180 with four home runs in April. He hit 10 home runs, batted .309 and had 24 RBI in June.
“I don’t really reflect on how I started,” Alvarez said. “It’s about trying to progress, trying to key, trying to learn as much as I can. The past is the past. Everybody here knows what kind of player they can be and what kind of talent they have. It’s all about having confidence and moving on forward. I hadn’t had the best of starts, but it didn’t really let my feelings about what I know I can do falter.”
Grilli knows about not letting his self-belief waiver. He participated in the 1999 All-Star Futures Game, but when the Pirates signed him in 2011 he had been pitching in the minor leagues.
It’s understandable why Grilli said he had a lump in his throat throughout the day, and even more so because many of the players’ fathers — including Grilli’s — made the trip with the team.
But Grilli left no doubt the All-Star Game isn’t the main goal. That remains several months from now in October.
“I would trade this experience in for what we’re really after, in all honesty,” he said. “This is a personal thing, and I couldn’t want anything more than to bring what Pittsburgh wants and what this team wants, and that to me is way more important than us going to one particular game.”