When the Yankees drafted Mark Melancon in the ninth round of the 2006 MLB draft, they were grooming him to be their closer of the future. A standout at Arizona, Melancon had the credentials, boasting a formidable fastball and curveball.
But the organization's vision didn't come to fruition in 2009 and 2010, as Melancon allowed 11 earned runs in 20 1/3 innings. Nearly two years since leaving the Yankees — they shipped him to the Astros as part of a deal for Lance Berkman in 2010 — Melancon looks back at his New York tenure with appreciation.
"I wouldn't take back anything that I've gone through in the past," Melancon said. "I wanted to stay there and, at that time, be a Yankee for the rest of my life. But I wouldn't have been able to close if I didn’t go to Houston. I can't look back and say I wish I could've done this or that because I wouldn't be the same person."
In the short term, the move benefitted Melancon. Once Brandon Lyon went down in Houston last year, Melancon stepped in and instantly lived up to the billing, converting 20 of 25 save opportunities.
But after the Red Sox acquired him last December, Melancon's sudden ascent took a turn for the worse. Expected to be a set-up man or substitute closer for Andrew Bailey, Melancon floundered in April after yielding 11 runs in two innings.
It prompted the Red Sox to option the 27-year-old to Triple-A for roughly two months. While Melancon has returned to Boston's bullpen, he longs for the chance to close and validate New York's plan for his career.
"I miss it, don't get me wrong, but every situation I'm in, I try to treat it like a closing situation," Melancon said. "But yeah, it's different. It's a little different feel out there as far as it's your game to finish."
As a member of the Yankees, Melancon constantly leaned on Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada for guidance. According to the reliever, each of the All-Stars advised him on maintaining his confidence amid subpar stretches.
That philosophy was challenged on Friday night, when he surrendered a grand slam to Yankees slugger Curtis Granderson. And it prolonged a poor season for Melancon, who said he wanted to shine against his former club.
Even with his string of struggles since returning to the East Coast, Melancon insists that never once was he daunted by the talks of usurping Rivera.
"It's a nice gesture, but until you're actually doing it, it's not a reality," Melancon said. "I knew that from the get-go. That was my goal and I strive for that, but at the same time, I have reality in the sense that nobody can really fill his shoes. I didn’t really take that too far. I appreciated the comments, but couldn't get too wrapped up in that stuff."
With Rivera sidelined for the season with a torn ACL, Rafael Soriano is currently living Melancon's dream. In 43 appearances this season, the reliever has filled in admirably for the legendary closer, posting a 2-0 record and converting 24 of 25 saves.
Despite the obstacles in his career, Melancon has no regrets.
"When I got to [New York], I had spotty times and you can't have those here and that applies in Boston — same thing," Melancon said. "You have to be consistent for awhile and just showing signs of it isn't enough.
"Being a Yankee was really cool, but being a Red Sox is really cool."
For the time being, Melancon is willing to wait for another crack at closing.