The questions lobbed at the Pirates' All-Star Game representatives during the two-day blitz in New York focused as much on where they had come from as where they were going.
The 56-37 record the Pirates carried into the All-Star break and the fact that five of their players were good enough to represent the team attracted plenty of attention from the assembled media. With that record they carried the baggage of the previous two seasons, and so the interested parties looked forward as well as back.
Some of the Pirates qualified as "local guys." Jason Grilli went to college at Seton Hall. The New York Yankees drafted Mark Melancon and he reached the majors with them in 2009. Pedro Alvarez was the ultimate "local guy," having grown up in Washington Heights.
"It couldn't be more fitting for me," Grilli said. "Just close proximity to it all. Both my grandfathers were big, huge Mets fans. They're probably tickled quite a bit up there, sitting on a cloud watching. There's a lot of memories coming back to some old stomping grounds."
Grilli was his usual outgoing self, as was Jeff Locke, a left-hander with a 2.15 ERA, who gracefully handled a question of whether he had to pinch himself to believe he was there.
"I just think a lot has to do with gaining experience and gaining an opportunity to play every day," Alvarez said when asked about the changes to his swing, which may be his least favorite thing to talk about. "Obviously, there's mechanical things here and there, little tweaks. I don't think it's anything major, drastic, just trying to stay within myself and not do too much."
Those who played for other organizations reminisced. Grilli talked about his days as a Detroit Tiger, and Melancon lamented his stint with the Boston Red Sox.
"I would have loved to thrive in Boston and put a winning team out there for them," he said. "The fans there are spectacular.
"Whenever you go through tough times, you're bound to learn something. If you don't, you're probably not on a good path."
Eventually, they all looked forward. Alvarez acknowledged that, yes, it could sound foreign to an outsider to hear the phrase "first-place Pirates," but the team doesn't pay attention. Melancon talked about the playoffs as an expectation. Locke said the season was far from over, recognizing the road still left to travel, but not at the expense of overshadowing those first 56 wins.
"They all count," he said. "How many times do you see it comes down to game 163 and a team getting into the playoffs?"
Expanded replay: How much and when?
Because games already move at the pace of Parkway traffic, the group charged with studying expanded video review wants to avoid slowing the game any more.
"Life isn't perfect, the sport isn't perfect, but we live with it and it's been great," commissioner Bud Selig said.
Aside from the pace-of-play issues, any changes to the system must be approved by the World Umpires Association and the Major League Baseball Players Association. As the group --which includes MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre, Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz and former manager Tony La Russa -- considers revisions, they must be mindful of those factors.
"We'll need an agreement with both groups on the exact contents of the plan. But we've been talking to both the players' association and the WUA as we've gone through this process in order to build a consensus among the three groups on a plan that makes sense," said Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president for economics and league affairs.
Currently, umpires can use video replay to review home runs. Torre said potential revisions were not limited to fair-foul calls down the lines and trap plays, as outlined in the summary of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Several missed calls in recent seasons have brought the issue to the forefront. Torre mentioned a blown call in Game 2 of the 2012 American League Championship Series, when the Detroit Tigers' Omar Infante was rule safe at second base despite replays clearly showing he was tagged out against the New York Yankees.
"There was a lot of conversation about that play, even though the game didn't hang in the balance with that play," Torre said. "It disturbed me that there was a lot of conversation about the play more so than the game."
The Pirates were on the wrong end of high-profile missed call in 2011, when home plate umpire Jerry Meals ruled that the Braves won a 19-inning game when Julio Lugo slid into home plate, despite replays showing Michael McKenry had tagged him out.
Torre said the group wanted to avoid instituting a new procedure only to have to scale it back, but understood there would be tweaks along the way.
"The one thing we try to stay away from is to have a knee-jerk reaction," Torre said. "We have a play that's missed and all of a sudden, there's an outcry and we're going to panic and jump on something."
Looking ahead: Nationals
The Washington Nationals won a major league best 98 games last season, but came out of the All-Star break with a 48-47 record. The Nationals will resume their chase of the Braves in the NL East when the Pirates visit for four games beginning Monday.
The lack of offense this season has kept the Nationals' record close to .500. Their .301 on-base percentage was better than only the Miami Marlins in the National League. Injuries to Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth haven't helped.
Similar to the Pirates, the Nationals' pitching kept them afloat in the first half. Jordan Zimmermann compiled a 2.58 ERA in 1321/3 innings and Stephen Strasburg, pictured at left, fought through bumps in the road to strike out a batter per inning with a 2.99 ERA.
First Published July 21, 2013 4:00 AM