Tomase: Implications of Houck’s absence from Toronto extend beyond ugly loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Red Stockings winning virtually every game in June obscured a crucial fact — they weren’t exactly stomping on opponents like the 2007 Patriots.
Even while taking 19 out of 24, their margin of error remained terrifyingly small. They won four games by one point and another by a score of 2-0 on a season-changing West Coast trip. They defeated the Guardians over the weekend, despite being tied in the seventh of Friday’s opener and trailing in the sixth the following night.
When they faced the Blue Jays this week, they needed to know that it didn’t take much to knock them off their ashes. One minute the good times are rolling, the next they are rolling over like a quirky dune buggy. Or perhaps more aptly: a minute Tanner Houck is going to close, the next he stays at home because Canada won’t let him in the country†
Tuesday’s result was surprising, predictable and devastating at the same time. After another late-innings comeback, the Red Sox needed just three outs to secure a signature win.
Instead, they got no one behind a couple of relievers who weren’t qualified for the ninth. Perhaps that’s why manager Alex Cora sounded so unusually annoyed after the 6-5 loss that made it clear how much the Red Sox must hope they won’t visit the Jays in October.
“We’re trying to get 27 (outs) there and we didn’t finish it,” Cora told reporters.
Houck cost them the game, and he spent it 500 miles away in Boston. asked Cora journeyman Tyler Danish to take ninth against the most dangerous bats in Toronto’s order after a perfect eighth, and he wasn’t up to the task. Nor was replacement Hansel Robles, who blew his fifth save with the tying single by Bo Bichette and the winning knock by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The ninth should have been Houck, who took on the closer role two and a half weeks ago and promptly saved six games in six chances. His presence had finally enabled Cora to shape the late innings. His absence opened a wormhole until April, when the Red Sox constantly blew winable games.
Cora was asked to give Danish a second inning instead of calling up, say, left-handed Matt Strahm, but let’s face it — there were no good options against George Springer, Bichette and Guerrero, especially after one of the leading batters of the AL, catcher Alejandro Kirk, led off with a pinch single.
“I mean, that’s how I saw it,” Cora said. “That’s the way I managed the game. I’m the manager here and I decided to go with (Danish) for two innings.”
Each of the above batters swing right-handed. Strahm would have been a risky choice, as right-handers hit him 41 points better than left-handers. The same can’t be said of Houck, who dominates righties with a .526 OPS. But his refusal to re-vaccinate got in the way, as he did in April, when his absence contributed to three defeats in four games and sent the Red Sox into a tailspin that ended 10-19 and its second worst. record in the American League.
Houck’s savings rate (6 for 6)
Save percentage from other Red Sox relievers (11 for 26)
It took them six weeks to climb out of that hole, and they can only hope they don’t fall back in, especially since they in the middle of 20 of 23 games against the Jays, Yankees and Rays.
That is their immediate concern, but the big picture also poses problems. The Red Sox return to Toronto on September 30 for the penultimate run of the season. They may need Games 157-159 to earn a playoff berth. In addition, if the Jays win the wild card and the Red Sox finish second, Toronto will host three games in October.
As things stand, the Red Sox should be without Houck and outfielder Jarren Duran, who sparked the leadoff spot. There is also the matter of rehabilitating ace Chris Sale, who revealed during spring training that he has not been vaccinated and has not addressed his status since. While there’s time for all three to have a shot, that didn’t help the Red Sox on Tuesday, nor will it help them in Wednesday’s final, when they want to avoid a sweep.
Players are entitled to individual choices, and no one wants to hear more arguments about vaccines. But as Tuesday night reminded us, decisions like Houck’s have consequences that can affect the score.