MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Red Sox have a lot to like in Melancon

Justice: Red Sox have a lot to like in Melancon

Red Sox have a lot to like in Melancon
The Red Sox are going to fall in love with their new reliever. As good as they think Mark Melancon is, they're going to like him even more once they get to know him.

They're going to love Melancon's 95-mph fastball and how he finally has learned to control it and, at times, even cut it a bit for extra movement.

They're going to appreciate that the Astros gave Melancon a chance to close games last summer and how that experience helped him in all sorts of ways.

In fact, it would be easy to argue that, at 26, Melancon is very close to being a finished product. He didn't get there overnight and not without some bumps in the road.

Bumps in the road? That's a good one. Melancon might call it more than that. His bump in the road was having his right elbow -- that's his pitching elbow -- sliced open and rebuilt shortly after the Yankees took him in the 2006 Draft.

In the first days after the surgery, when Melancon was sitting in that hospital room looking at his right arm, the idea of taking the ball in the ninth inning at Fenway Park must have seemed like the most distant dream on earth.

Melancon got a cup of coffee with New York during the 2009 and '10 seasons. He was in 13 games in '09 and two in '10, so it was like a few tiny cups of coffee. Melancon would tell you that experienced helped him, too, because while people talk about the pressure of pitching for the Yanks, there's a different kind of pressure when you know one bad pitch might get you shipped back to the Minor Leagues.

"I just don't think I pitched well enough to stay up," Melancon said. "It's as simple as that. New York's a place where you have to be on your 'A game' at all times. I showed glimpses of that, but I wasn't consistent."

The Yankees dealt him to Houston at the 2010 Trade Deadline for Lance Berkman. Melancon accepted the deal like a pro, which is how he does everything.

And then this season, when Astros closer Brandon Lyon got hurt, manager Brad Mills began giving Melancon the ball in the late innings. He took that opportunity and ran with it, converting 20 of 25 save chances, including 14 of 16 after the All-Star break.

Maybe 20 saves doesn't sound like a big deal, but going 20 for 25 on a team that went 56-106 is some pretty sweet throwing.

Melancon finished the season with 71 appearances and a 2.78 ERA. Best of all, his right elbow held up just fine, and so when the Red Sox began rebuilding their bullpen, Melancon was one of the guys on their list.

The Astros liked the deal because they're in a rebuilding mode, and the trade got them two players -- shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland.

Let's push the pause button on our story to tell a tale about Melancon's first spring with the Yankees. He was miles away from his Colorado home and needing wheels.

"I didn't have a car and my roommate didn't have a car," he said. "So we started looking through the classifieds at used cars. I thought, 'Shoot, let's rent a car for a day and go check out some of these cars.' The first place we went had this old beat-up van. It had holes in the bottom. You could see the street while you're driving. There were holes in the roof, too."

It was love at first sight.

"It was a classic," he said. "We bought this thing for $350 and used it to go everywhere for a couple of weeks. It was the getaway car for all the guys in the hotel."

When Spring Training ended, he donated the van to Kars4kids.

OK, back to the present.

"It feels good to have success," Melancon told me last summer, "but as soon as you start to get too high on yourself, you get knocked back down in the game of baseball. Everything you've done prior doesn't matter. It's what you're going to do today and here on out."

Melancon will tell you the tough times made the good ones all that much sweeter. And this next chapter could be the best of all.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.