Mark Melancon, All-Star

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NEW YORK — The 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Citi Field is Mark Melancon’s first in the big leagues. Given that he needed this season to re-establish himself as a major leaguer again, that much makes some sense.

What is harder to comprehend is that this is the Pirates setup man’s first midsummer classic as a pro. Anywhere. Period.

“Considering I didn’t make any All-Star teams in the minor leagues, this is really cool,” Melancon told the Democrat today. “I’ve always anticipated being this caliber and being at this level, but to actually do it is a different story.”

The now 28-year-old was always expected to get to the game’s highest level, even upon his arrival in Trenton midway through the 2008 season. In 19 appearances, he went 6-0, posted a 1.81 ERA and struck out 47 batters in 49 2/3 innings of work. In short, he did little to lead anyone to believe that their lofty projections of his future stardom were wrong.

He made his big league debut the following season and struggled with command at times, walking as many batters as he struck out in 13 outings. He received just two more outings in Yankee pinstripes the following year, primarily being buried in Triple-A, before getting shipped off to Houston in a deadline-day deal.

“I understand the business side of it,” said Melancon of leaving the Yankees. “I totally get it, and I’m very happy for what they allowed me to do. They gave me the opportunity, and I have so many friends over there. They have a big place in my heart because of what they did for me.”

Given a full season in “The Show” by Houston, Melancon flourished, quietly posting an 8-4 mark with a 2.78 ERA in 71 appearances out of the bullpen for the Astros. It was a season that put him on the map, but also one that put him on the radar of many teams. Namely, the Boston Red Sox.

Boston acquired Melancon prior to the 2012 season via trade, and he struggled, pitching to a 6.20 ERA while spending a good chunk of the year back in Triple-A. Despite that, and despite a renaissance campaign this season, Melancon refuses to believe that he needed his remarkable run with the Pirates to rejuvenate his career.

“Honestly, I think I’ve had outings where I’ve struggled in the past year, but for the most part I’ve pitched well,” he said. “I’m the same guy, I’m not a whole lot different in any aspect.”

He also, even with the sky-high ceiling he was thought to have breezing through the Yankees farm system, was never concerned with fulfilling the potential he was said to have. He only needed to satisfy himself.

“You know, I don’t look at what people’s expectations of me are,” Melancon said.

“I think my own expectations are higher than what people have for me. This wasn’t on my personal goal list; this is an individual goal that’s really cool and I’m honored to be here, but the bigger goals are to win the World Series for my team. I’m ecstatic to be here, because when you play well as an individual, it helps the team. But I want to win the World Series.”

It may not be a ring or bust quite yet for Melancon, but to be sure, the Pirates have been one of baseball’s best stories this year. And the big righty has been a big part of it, allowing just four earned runs in his first 45 outings this season.

“It’s really cool,” said Melancon of being a part of the team’s turnaround.

“The city is behind us, and there’s a lot of buzz. It’s really cool to have the whole Pittsburgh nation behind us.”

But at least for one day, the team-first reliever was able to enjoy an impressive individual accomplishment, especially when looking back on how he found out he’d be an All-Star for the very first time.

“(Pirates manager) Clint Hurdle called me and told me before I got to the field, and then when we got to the field, he announced it to the ballclub,” he said. “My wife was there with me, and she had some tears in her eyes. I understand how hard it is to get here, and sometimes guys aren’t here that probably could be and should be. To get over the hump of just getting here, it’s pretty neat. I don’t want these days to end, for sure.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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