NEW YORK -- Due to the short notice of Mark Melancon's All-Star selection, he traveled to Citi Field via ground transportation.
And loved it.
"It was better than flying because I got to relax, I got to talk," Melancon said of the six-hour drive with his family. "It was actually a really neat experience."
Melancon was the fifth and final Pirates player selected to participate in the All-Star festivities and the game tonight at Citi Field. National League manager Bruce Bochy selected setup man Melancon to replace Jeff Locke, who missed his start Sunday because of tightness in his lower back.
Melancon deserved the invitation. He has walked four and allowed four earned runs in 44 1/3 innings this season in addition to striking out 46.
"It's a very big deal, and I'm so glad that Melancon, they got it right," said fellow All-Star Jason Grilli, the recipient of many save opportunities in games that Melancon has kept close.
84th All-Star Game
Citi Field, New York.
As excited as Grilli was to join Melancon, Locke, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez as the Pirates' representation, he credited the rest of his bullpen with some of his success and spoke highly of the impact his season has had on his teammates.
"Some of the texts I've got from my teammates, even when I was here, I was in tears [Sunday] night," he said. "I think the biggest accolade beyond being named an All-Star is you get the respect and the admiration and the well-wishes from your teammates. You get the respect of your peers, you can take that to the bank."
The Pirates faced familiar questions Monday, held in the open-air Jackie Robinson rotunda. MLB employees brought the players towels to help them combat the mid-90-degree heat.
Grilli discussed his long journey to becoming a shutdown closer and first-time All-Star at 36; Alvarez, talked about his improvement since May and performing in the Home Run Derby in his hometown; Melancon, spoke about the Pirates' playoff chances.
"That's an expectation for sure," Melancon said.
"If we don't get there, that would be devastating. It's how far we're going to get in the playoffs is what we're talking about."
Alvarez received a barrage of questions about the Derby, including his thoughts about the PNC Park crowd's hostility toward National League Derby captain David Wright during the weekend series against the New York Mets.
"The guy obviously doesn't deserve that," Alvarez said. "That's that."
McCutchen, playing in his third All-Star Game, gave the others the finer points of the events -- where to be, what to wear, etc.
Melancon had breakfast with his extended family, who flew in from out of town.
Locke wanted to make sure he got to meet Los Angeles Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw, the one man Locke pegged as a must.
"I met him on a bus," Locke said. "I went to go introduce myself and he was like, 'Hey Jeff.' I was like, no way. That's the coolest thing in the world.
On the stage for all to see, the Pirates' representatives said they weren't focused on what the exposure could do for themselves or for a team that, at 56-37, has surprised many fans and observers.
"I don't think we're trying to make a name for ourselves individually here," Melancon said.
"What I've gathered in the clubhouse and feel in the clubhouse is the Pirates are a team group all the way."
"We focus on ourselves," Alvarez said.
"We know what we have in front of us. We're so invested in one another that we just worry about what we can do to win some ballgames.
"One of the biggest factors is not worrying about external distractions."
Even on the high note of the good first-half record and the All-Star representation, McCutchen noted that the Pirates weren't done.
"I feel like we're only getting better, we're only going to get better going into the second half," he said.
"It's not, we've reached our plateau. We did good, now we go out there just to continue working and do even better as a team."
The players invited to New York, Melancon said, represented that.
"It shows the talent we have on our team," he said. "The production that we're getting is not a fluke, it's for real."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published July 16, 2013 4:00 AM