07/04/10 5:52 PM ET
Meek mighty enough to earn All-Star spot
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Despite having one of baseball's least glamorous roles, Meek turned enough heads during the first half of 2010 to be named to his first All-Star team. The 27-year-old setup man will represent the Pirates at Angel Stadium on July 13 after being chosen as one of 13 pitchers for the National League squad, which is looking for its first win since 1996.
Meek was the only Pirates player selected by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, meaning that Andrew McCutchen came up empty in his strong bid to join Meek as a first-time selectee.
"Considering our other candidate, Andrew McCutchen, it was definitely a surprise," Meek said, shortly after calling his father, David, and his younger brother to share the news. "He's very deserving to go, and I thought that he should have gone. It will be awesome to represent Pittsburgh and just be a part of the game. It's a real honor. I'm still just taking it all in.
"It's amazing to be selected," he added. "It's an overwhelming feeling."
Meek, who never made an All-Star team in the Minors, has been manager John Russell's most reliable late-inning arm all season. Not only is Meek's 0.96 ERA is the lowest among all NL relievers, but since April 21, that ERA has risen above 1.00 for a total of seven days.
Furthermore, only two NL relievers -- Washington's Tyler Clippard and Colorado's Matt Belisle -- have logged more innings than Meek, who has pitched 47 in the team's first 82 games.
"It's great," Russell said. "I thought he was a shoo-in with what he did to have that kind of ERA at this point. I'm very, very excited for him."
It was Russell who called Meek into his office to deliver the news just before the MLB All-Star Selection Show aired at noon ET.
"He had a big smile on his face," Meek said. "And I had a big smile on my face."
It hasn't always been all smiles up to this point for Meek, who began his professional career in 2003 after being an 11th-round Draft selection by the Twins in '02. He found himself released and out of baseball midway through the '05 season and continued to struggle with command issues during stops in the Padres' and Rays' Minor League systems.
Meek was left off Tampa Bay's 40-man roster after the 2007 season, which allowed Pittsburgh to step in and pluck the right-hander with the second pick in the December Rule 5 Draft. He began '08 as the seventh man in the Pirates' bullpen, but it became obvious quickly that Meek did not yet belong.
By May 4, Meek had been designated for assignment, left to wonder if he'd thrown his last pitch for the organization.
The Pirates worked out a trade with the Rays to retain the right-hander, and after spending the rest of the '08 season in the Minors, Meek established himself as the team's most exciting young reliever with the job he did in 2009.
"He's gone through a lot of adversity on the field and battled back from it consistently," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It's just a great story. Evan deserves all the credit in the world. He deserves this All-Star honor."
Even still, Meek doesn't seem to regret any part of the circuitous journey that got him here.
"You all know about what happened here my first year with the struggles and being sent down and coming back up, but that's all part of it," he said. "I'm just trying to get better every day."
Meek's inclusion on the All-Star team makes him the first Pirates reliever not used primarily as a closer to be selected since saves became an official Major League statistic in 1969. He is the first Pirates pitcher of any kind to be named an All-Star since closer Mike Williams made back-to-back appearances in 2002-03.
The fact that Meek was able to dent the roster as a middle reliever is also notable given how often setup men are passed over for starting pitchers and closers. Of the 13 pitchers chosen for this year's team, just five are relievers. Meek and Cincinnati's Arthur Rhodes are the only two who have not been used in a closer's role. Rhodes, like Meek, is a first-time All-Star.
"I've always said that there are a lot of great middle relievers out there," Meek said. "There's a lot that deserving to go to the game. You can lose a game in the sixth, seventh and eighth, too. That's why we're important."
While the Pirates are plenty pleased to be sending Meek to Anaheim, there was some disappointment that McCutchen would not be joining him. That disappointment, though, came from everyone but McCutchen himself.
"I am perfectly fine," he said. "I'm happy for Evan. Clearly, he had the numbers to go. I am happy for him, and I hope he gets an opportunity to be able to pitch and does a good job."
McCutchen certainly had the credentials to warrant serious consideration. Though he finished 20th among all NL outfielders in the fan voting, McCutchen entered Sunday ranked fourth in batting average (.299), second in stolen bases (20), fourth in hits (89) and third in runs scored (50) among league outfielders.
He leads all Pirates players in each of those offensive categories as well.
"Every year there are players who are deserving to be All-Stars who aren't going to be able to play in the game. This year, in our mind, Andrew McCutchen is one of those," Huntington said. "He's played very well for us. Hopefully he's going to get an opportunity to play in several All-Star Games as we go forward. You can't argue Evan Meek's qualifications, but it would have been great to see two guys go."
The Pirates have had more than one All-Star representative only three times in the past 16 years.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.