CINCINNATI — That same steely focus, mental toughness and remarkable consistency that have made Shane McClanahan one of the majors’ best pitchers this season kept him from thinking much in advance about the clearly deserved award of making the American League All-Star team.
So when manager Kevin Cash gathered the Rays for a meeting before Sunday’s game to announce McClanahan’s election, and as the top choice by his peers, the 25-year-old left-hander was stunned at the news that everyone else with and around the team expected.
“It’s crazy,’’ McClanahan said. “I’m blown away.’’
There were smiles, hugs and tears, some still evident as McClanahan talked to reporters more than a half-hour later.
“It was a mix of happy and emotional, like ‘Oh, my God, this can’t be real,’ ‘’ McClanahan said. “Just thinking of my family, my friends, (bullpen coach Jean Ramirez, who died by suicide in January). It was unbelievable.
“I called (my parents). They acted surprised. I think they knew more than I did. But they just told me how proud they were of me. And that meant a lot to hear.’’
Rays officials were obviously quite proud, too, of the progress McClanahan has made.
He was drafted 31st overall in 2018 out of USF, made an unprecedented major-league debut in the 2020 postseason as a reliever, developed into a frontline starter last year after being called up in late April. And now, in his first full big-league season, has evolved into an ace and an All-Star, posting a 9-3 record with an AL-best 1.73 ERA and a majors-most 141 strikeouts.
“As deserving as any pitcher in baseball, any player in baseball,’’ Cash said. “I can’t recall a better first half that I’ve witnessed from a pitcher for us. I think it’s pretty spectacular that his peers voted him in; he got the most votes of any pitcher in the American League, so that’s saying something.
“Where Shane has come from, from 2020 kind of ambushing him saying, ‘Hey, you’re on a postseason roster,’ to basically a sinker-slider pitcher who threw 100 (mph) that probably didn’t know where it’s going, and now you can make the argument that he’s been as polished as any pitcher in baseball.’’
The next question will be whether McClanahan is chosen to start the July 19 game at Dodger Stadium, a decision that AL manager Dusty Baker doesn’t have to announce until the day before.
Cash said the Rays hope McClanahan is chosen — that he is “very deserving” and “has pitched the best in baseball to date’' — but knows there are other appealing choices and from his own experience managing in last year’s game that other factors are considered. Justin Verlander, from Baker’s Astros, and Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who has worldwide TV appeal, are two other options.
McClanahan, no surprise, isn’t too concerned.
“It would be awesome,’ he said. “But ultimately I have no control over that, so I’m going to do what I can to control what I can and that’s to focus on the Red Sox (whom he faces Wednesday), because that’s a for-sure thing, and continue to try and prepare for that. Whatever happens, happens.’'
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McClanahan won a close race among players, who elected five starters, finishing with 212 votes. Verlander got 203, Toronto’s Alek Manoah 184, and the Yankees’ Nestor Cortes 157 and Gerrit Cole 131.
McClanahan said being voted in by his peers was “the ultimate form of respect” and added to his amazement at the accomplishment.
“It’s crazy,’’ he said. “It’s like, it’s weird. You see a lot of the guys you grew up watching pitch, Verlander, (Clayton) Kershaw, all those other guys, it’s really an honor.’'
The reaction from his Rays mates was meaningful also. “Every single one of them came up to me and hugged me and just told me how proud of me they are,’' McClanahan said. “That was pretty special.’'
McClanahan has a few details to work out but is excited that his parents and girlfriend will join him in Los Angeles. And he thinks he has the requisite suit for the red carpet parade, one former teammate Chris Archer bought him last year.
“I’ve worn it one time to a wedding, and I’m going to probably, hopefully break it out,’' McClanahan said. “It’s about the only nice piece of clothing I have, so I kind of have to. I’m excited.’'
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