DENVER — Matt Barnes was mentioned in trade rumors 11 months ago when the last-place Red Sox were deadline sellers.

What a difference one year makes.

The closer signed a two-year, $18.75-million extension with Boston on Sunday, then pitched a scoreless eighth inning in his first All-Star Game here Tuesday at Coors Field. The American League won 5-2 over the National League.

Barnes is a big reason why Boston is in first place in the AL East. And he’s not surprised the Red Sox have turned it around so quickly.

“Obviously last year was very disappointing and wasn’t anything that we wanted or expected,” Barnes said Monday at Coors Field. “But then you kind of start paying attention to some of the offseason moves that (chief baseball officer) Chaim (Bloom) had made, right? We still had a really good core group of guys. And then Chaim brings in a bunch of veteran guys who have been around and who have been successful and bring great talent and quality. Great teammates in the clubhouse. From the moment I got to spring training and after the first week or two, you could just tell that there was a different vibe than we had last year. This was a team that believed.”

The Red Sox traded Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Mitch Moreland, Kevin Pillar and Josh Osich last August. Barnes might have netted the best prospect return being under control through 2021. But Bloom kept him and it’s a good thing he did. What’s that saying? Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

Barnes has a 2.61 ERA, 2.09 FIP, 0.90 WHIP and 19 saves in 38 appearances.

“This was a team that knew we were going to be good,” Barnes said. “We were incredibly excited to get underway. I’m honestly not surprised. The front office has always done a good job of making sure that even if we’ve got a down year or two that it really doesn’t last much longer than that. So I’m not surprised at all. I think Chaim and the front office have done a phenomenal job.”

Barnes grew up a Yankees fan in Bethel, Connecticut, but he now bleeds Boston.

“The city’s awesome,” he said. “Boston’s got this really unique thing where it’s a major city but it feels like a small town. It feels like you’re hanging out in a small town in Connecticut where there’s trees and character to the buildings. It’s a clean city and everybody’s friendly. You can walk around. Like New York City to me feels really big. But Boston doesn’t have that vibe. It’s got something about it.”

One of the benefits of playing for the Red Sox is living close to home.

“My house in Connecticut is probably two and a half hours from Fenway,” Barnes said. “So if we’ve got a day game on Sunday, an off day Monday, night game Tuesday, I can be home by 8:30 on Sunday night and then I drive back up Tuesday morning to Boston.”

Barnes has pounded the strike zone. He has thrown 69.9% first-pitch strikes this season, well above his career mark of 59.1%.

He’s averaging 14.9 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings. His walk rate is much improved from his career walk mark of 4.1 walks per nine innings.

“When I sat down in spring training with Bushy and Walk (pitching coach Dave Bush and bullpen coach Kevin Walker) and the analytics department, we kind of established a game plan of how I wanted to do things this year,” Barnes said. “Obviously knowing that attacking guys and cutting down on walks was a big component of that. More times than not, when I got myself into a lot of trouble, it was because I was putting guys on base. They weren’t earning their way onto base. And that was frustrating. So I had to change a mindset. I had to kind of adopt this new philosophy. We then tried it out in spring training and had success with it. And was able to carry that into this season. And that’s the mentality and the way I’ve been pitching for the last three and a half months.”

Barnes’ wife, parents, mother-in-law, brother and brother’s girlfriend attended Tuesday’s game All-Star Game.

“And then I’ve got a couple friends, old coaches who flew out,” Barnes said. “So we’ve got a decent group here and it’s been fun.”


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