Mark Melancon is a four-time All-Star in his 13th season in the majors. He’s made $78.5 million, collected 232 saves, and appeared in 20 playoff games.
Now 36 and the closer for the San Diego Padres, Melancon believes his success is at least partially a product of his one miserable season with the Red Sox.
“I think about that season all the time,” he said. “It changed me.”
The Sox sent Jed Lowrie and righthanded reliever Kyle Weiland to the Astros to get Melancon before the 2012 season. It seemed like a savvy move by new GM Ben Cherington at the time, getting a talented young closer to replace Jonathan Papelbon after he fled to the Phillies as a free agent.
But Melancon allowed 11 runs over two innings in his first four games and was demoted to Pawtucket. He returned in June and pitched well as a set-up man during that trash fire of a season.
“That year was the best in terms of my entire career,” Melancon said. “I got sent back to Triple A, my back was against the wall, and I learned a ton. It was great.
“I wouldn’t take that year back for anything.”
Melancon was traded to Pittsburgh after the season and made the All-Star team for the first time in ’13. He’s been one of the best closers in the game since.
“That season in Boston pushed me forward,” Melancon said. “I had to figure things out. I remember it very well. Mentally, I was great. My results were terrible, but I knew it was just a matter of time.
“When I was in Triple A, it helped me dig down deep and find it. Now when I get in a struggle I’ll go back to those days and it helps me.”
A few other tales from the All-Star Game:
▪ Brandon Crawford on Giants teammate Mike Yastrzemski: “He’s been huge for us. The athleticism in the outfield and a great approach at the plate and his power. A great fit.
“He goes out there and plays through injuries. Maybe that’s the Northeast in him. He’s been one of our MVPs.
“Sometimes it takes a little while for something to click for a player. Something changed for him his last year in the minors with the Orioles and I’m glad our front office saw something in him to go get him.”
▪ Brewers righthander Corbin Burnes on having Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield: “It’s incredible. When you can add a Gold Glove to your defense, it’s pretty special. Outside of that, Jackie is a phenomenal human being. He’s a great leader in the clubhouse, too.
“He’s done so much to save the pitching staff. Any time you have a lead and you’re playing in a big ballpark, having a guy like Jackie helps your mind-set. You don’t have to be so fine.”
▪ Pete Alonso made $2 million for winning the Home Run Derby the last two seasons. Counting this season, he’s made $1.47 million playing for the Mets.
Hopefully Alonso kicked a little back to Mets bench coach Dave Jauss, his pitcher in those Derby victories. Jauss, 64, never missed the heart of the strike zone according to the pitch-tracking devices at Coors Field. He was a machine throughout the competition and matched Alonso’s exuberance.
Jauss, who played at Amherst, has been in pro ball since 1988. He was with the Red Sox from 1996-2005 as a coach, scout, and administrator.
▪ Here’s what kind of guy Trey Mancini is: As a Notre Dame player in 2012, he won the home run derby at the Big East tournament with pitching coach Chuck Ristano throwing to him. Mancini promised Ristano that if he ever got to MLB’s derby, he would throw to him again.
Nine years later, Mancini kept that promise.
“The phone call was unbelievable,” Ristano said after Mancini finished second to Alonso. “I was in the Atlanta airport on my way back from a recruiting trip and it took me quite honestly the flight from Atlanta to South Bend to compose myself.”
Ristano, a college coach for nearly 20 seasons, said the night was an “unbelievable thrill” for him.
Mancini was in the derby after missing last season battling colon cancer. He hopes his success being back on the field will help others fighting cancer.
“I think it can set an example that you have to go back to your normal life, even though you might have this thing hanging over you sometimes,” he said. “That’s the message that I really wanted to get across.”
▪ The Rockies fans at Coors Field gave Nolan Arenado a huge ovation when he was introduced Tuesday. The same was true for Rockies manager Bud Black, who was on the National League staff.
The fans made it clear they blame Rockies management for Arenado being traded to St. Louis and the team falling out of contention.
▪ National League manager Dave Roberts had 76-year-old Reggie Smith on his coaching staff for the game. Smith addressed the team before the game and later made a pitching change.
“I think it was special for him,” Roberts said.
It was a fitting tribute to Smith, a vastly underappreciated former Red Sox, Cardinals, and Dodgers outfielder.
▪ The All-Star Game was in Denver because MLB pulled it out of Atlanta after Georgia adopted restrictive voting laws.
“That decision with respect to Atlanta was probably the hardest thing I’ve been asked to do so far,” commissioner Rob Manfred said. “I’m hoping it’ll be the hardest thing I get asked to do, period.”
Could a similar decision be made again?
“I’m not going to speculate who’s going to pass what law and where we want to take jewel events,” Manfred said.
▪ A number of prominent players skipped the game for what appeared to be spurious reasons. Mookie Betts was 7 for 16 with two home runs in the four games before the All-Star break but said he was too injured to play. Every Astros player somehow found a reason not to attend. Jacob deGrom said he wanted to spend time with his family.
Manfred said there are “narrow exceptions” within the basic agreement to opt out of the game.
“We negotiated that for our fans to see our very best players in the All-Star Game,” Manfred said. “We will review with the union how all of the people who didn’t come fit within the exceptions and make sure we’re getting the benefit of our bargain . . . we intend to enforce that right.”
Are Red Sox set for starters?
The addition of Tanner Houck to the roster will allow the Sox to use a modified six-man rotation. The Sox plan to start him against Toronto on Wednesday, then return the righthander to the bullpen before giving him another start this month.
After dealing with a flexor muscle strain, Houck said Thursday that he’s fully healthy.
Meanwhile, Chris Sale could be ready as soon as July 30, assuming he builds up to five innings in his next two minor league starts.
Houck has not pitched five innings since the spot start he made against the Orioles way back on April 3. In his last Triple A start, on July 10, he went 3⅓ innings and 76 pitches.
How well Houck and Sale pitch as they build arm strength will determine whether the Sox feel compelled to add pitching before the July 30 trade deadline.
One of the keys to the 2018 championship was how carefully the Sox used their starters in August and September so they could be leaned on come October. That can be accomplished by deploying a sixth starter on occasion, using Houck and Garrett Whitlock as multi-inning relievers, or piggybacking two starters.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Cubs All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel was a mentor to Matt Barnes during his time with the Red Sox. He was glad to hear the news of Barnes getting a contract extension.
“I gave him a hug and told him I was proud of him and happy for him,” Kimbrel said. “It’s very good for him. Me and Barnes, we had a great relationship. Seeing him go out and succeed in that role makes me really happy.
“I think we all saw him as a closer because he had such great stuff. The only thing that got him into trouble was command. Seems like he’s trusting his pitches. He’s matured. He’s got a lot of mental strength.”
▪ There are only 10 Sox players left who were members of the 2018 team, including prodigal son Brandon Workman.
“It’s wild,” Nate Eovaldi said. “But the guys who are still here and having [Alex Cora] come back have given us a good core. I feel that’s been one of the keys to our success. Especially the pitchers, we trust his judgment.”
CAUGHT IN THE DRAFT
Mass. prospects reunite with Braves
The Braves took lefthander Jared Shuster of Wake Forest and New Bedford with the 25th overall pick of the 2020 draft. This year, they took righthander Ryan Cusick of Wake Forest and Sudbury with the 24th overall pick.
Two Massachusetts kids from Wake Forest going to the same team with nearly the same pick a year apart. What are the odds?
“It’s crazy that it worked out this way,” said Cusick, who attended the draft with his family and girlfriend, former Wake Forest field hockey player Caroline Balogh. “I never would have expected that.”
According to Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown, scouting Shuster helped lead to Cusick.
“You’ve got to fish where the fish are,” he said.
When the pandemic halted Wake Forest’s season in 2020, Cusick and Shuster worked out at the school before the facilities were closed. They then drove back to Massachusetts and met up several times a week at Doran Park in Bourne to play catch.
“I was living down the Cape about an hour from New Bedford, so we met up in Bourne,” Cusick said. “We had been long-toss partners in school, so we continued working out together.”
Shuster was drafted a few weeks later. Cusick intended to pitch in the Cape Cod League, but when that was canceled, he shifted to the Coastal Plains League and was pitcher of the year.
The 6-foot-6-inch Cusick had 108 strikeouts over 70 innings for Wake Forest, impressing scouts with a triple-digit fastball. He also has developed a changeup to go along with a cutter.
Cusick was 10-10 with a 5.01 ERA at Wake. But the raw tools are there. Shuster, meanwhile, has a 2.89 ERA in eight games for High A Rome (Ga.) this season.
A few other draft leftovers:
▪ Red Sox shortstop of the future Marcelo Mayer is the third player from Eastlake High in Chula Vista, Calif., to go in the first round. Adrian Gonzalez (No. 1 to the Marlins in 2000) and shortstop Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 to the Twins in 2019) were the others. Mayer is the 68th player from San Diego County to go in the first round.
▪ Frank Mozzicato of Ellington, Conn., was a relative unknown in scouting circles a year ago. He went seventh overall to the Royals.
It’s the highest a Connecticut player has been taken out of high school since Bobby Valentine was picked fifth by the Dodgers in 1968.
Mozzicato threw four no-hitters for East Catholic High, which finished 25-0 with a state title.
▪ Eight players accepted MLB’s invitation to the draft. All were taken in the first round, except for Fordham lefty Matt Mikulski. He had to wait until the second round, which wasn’t televised.
Mikulski and his family were very gracious to the other players on hand, but their turn didn’t come until Monday.
▪ The Angels drafted all pitchers, 20 of them, with 19 coming from college teams. That’s either myopia or really understanding your needs. Time will tell. The Dodgers took 17 pitchers in their 19 picks and the Indians 19 of 21.
▪ “The Northeast has always had quality baseball players,” said Connecticut native Matt Barnes about the 28 players with New England ties who were taken in the draft. “One thing about pitchers from New England, we won’t get overworked.
“Plus there are more baseball-specific academies around now. I’m glad to see it. We’re guys who have to shovel the field to play.”
A better comparison for Ohtani?
Angels manager Joe Maddon has often referenced Babe Ruth when discussing Shohei Ohtani’s terrific season. But after watching how thoroughly Ohtani enjoyed the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, maybe the Negro Leagues offer a better alternative.
Ruth was a two-way player for parts of the 1918 season and all the 1919 season. Once he was traded to the Yankees, he abandoned pitching, outside of five games over a span of 16 years.
Players like Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe and Bullet Rogan were two-way players throughout their careers in the Negro Leagues, which is what Ohtani has done since he was playing in Japan.
Ohtani approached the events in Denver with a smile and said several times he wanted to put on a good show for the fans. His love of baseball was evident.
That seems like something Radcliffe and Rogan would have related to.
The Giants organization lost one of its pillars Wednesday when Dick Tidrow passed away at the age of 74. “Dirt” was one of the best evaluators of pitching talent in the game and a key adviser to GM Brian Sabean when the Giants won three World Series from 2010-14. The San Francisco native pitched in the majors from 1972-84, and is one of 36 pitchers in history with at least 100 wins and 50 saves. Tidrow started in baseball operations with the Giants in 1994 . . . Former Milton Academy righthander Matt Tabor, a third-round pick by Arizona in 2017, threw a seven-inning no-hitter for Double A Amarillo against San Antonio last Sunday on 77 pitches. He walked two and struck out three . . . Happy birthday to Mike Greenwell, who is 58. He played his entire major league career with the Red Sox from 1985-96, hitting .303 with an .831 OPS and 130 home runs. “The Gator” was a two-time All-Star and finished second in the 1988 MVP race to Jose Canseco. Greenwell was such a respected hitter that he was intentionally walked 79 times, seventh in team history. Greenwell dabbled in coaching and stock car racing after retiring as a player. Also, happy birthday on Tuesday to Red Sox senior director of club relations Jack McCormick, who will be 78.